We eat a lot of bacon. About the only foodstuff that has more general ability for making food taste better is butter (the real stuff… there hasn’t been a stick of margarine in our house in years), and we eat a lot of that too. Bacon makes eggs infinitely more appealing when you’ve already eaten half a dozen in the last day or two. Bacon added to paté makes liver almost tasty. Popcorn popped in bacon grease with a little sea salt is amazing. Wrap a date in bacon and bake it, and you have an amazing appetizer. Then there’s bacon wrapped and creme-cheese stuffed jalapeño, bacon wrapped scallops, bacon bits on salad, bacon burgers, bacon, bacon, bacon. We like bacon.
We’ve become serious enough bacon snobs that we’ve developed an almost fail-proof way to fully render the bacon without burning it or smoking the grease. I discovered while I was living in a hotel for several months that the electric skillet I cooked almost all my food in was perfect for keeping the temperature just hot enough to fully crisp up the bacon without smoking the fat. Set for 350 degrees with a little grease from the last batch in the bottom of the pan to get things started, the skillet can almost be ignored until the bacon is done, then it comes out crispy and perfect. After taking the delicious little strips of bacony goodness out of the grease, I let the grease cool slightly and filter it through a paper towel into a mason jar for use in any number of other foods. We can’t let that precious bacon-flavored fat go to waste, now can we?
To give you an idea for how much we like bacon, we often cook the bacon faster than we can reasonably use up the resulting grease even while liberally applying it to eggs, vegetables, or whatever else needs the kind of help that can only be provided by delicious fat. Recently, I ended up with a full quart jar of bacon grease in the fridge with no real expectation I would be able to use it up before another came in behind it. With so much to spare, I decided to try something new. I went to the store, bought a bunch of sweet potatoes, and came home to try making sweet potato chips deep fried in bacon grease. I scraped the grease into my trusty skillet set for 350 degrees before turning to my stash of sweet potatoes. After peeling the skin off, I ran a couple of them through my food processor to cut them into slices a little less than 1/8th of an inch thick and sent them into the hot oil.
After coming out of the fryer, a little sea salt and complete cooling produced rather ugly looking but very tasty and crunchy chips. Because I’m not supposed to eat a lot of carbs from things like grains and potatoes, I miss the crunch of crackers or the crust of a French baguette. Having a handful of sweet potato chips to fill that void is a godsend. Having a slight taste of bacon to enhance the flavor of the sweet potato is even better. I can only imagine what it would taste like to do this with potatoes. One note is that it took quite a while before the water had cooked off enough for the final result to come out crispy. In fact, it took about 20-25 minutes, so I don’t recommend starting something like this if you are in a hurry. In my case, I didn’t have much else going on that night, so it didn’t really matter how long it took. In the end, I cooked up about 10 lbs of sweet potatoes and got a large bag of chips out of the deal.
So, now that we’ve established just how much we like bacon around here, I have to say that we’re kind of picky about it. If Oscar Meyer makes it, if it was wet cured with liquid smoke, or if it doesn’t look and smell like it was dry-smoked in a real smoke-house, I’m not likely to eat it if I have any alternatives. If the choice is cheap bacon or a box of cereal and skim milk — the cheap bacon wins every time, but that’s about where I draw the line. Unfortunately, the trouble with good bacon is that it’s expensive. However, I’ve never let that get in the way of good food, and this is no exception. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
To help manage costs we used to purchase and butcher a pig semi-regularly and make bacon from the belly while the rest of the critter found its way into sausage, chops, roasts, lard, and whatnot. Because of this I have enough bacon cure in the pantry to process almost another 200 lbs of bacon, but don’t have pigs to use it on. I doubt my neighbors here in the suburbs would be all that thrilled with me slaughtering a pig in the front yard. Processing an animal in the garage is out of the question too since I can barely walk through there; and the back yard is over 50% filled by the trampoline and the rest with other stuff, so there’s no way I could find the space I’d need there. In the past, I’ve looked for fresh porkbelly in meat markets and grocery stores without success because they either don’t have it or it costs more than decent bacon.
Last week, however, I happened to be walking through a meat section in a grocery store and came across a pile of fresh, trimmed, porkbellies for less than $2.00 a pound. Without asking Liz if the grocery budget had the latitude I bought a 10lb slab to check the quality. It was excellent, and it’s now in the fridge curing. I’ll move it to the smoker tomorrow morning. As soon as this one comes out of the fridge to smoke I’ll probably go back and buy out what’s left. Good thing we only bought half a cow this year, I’m going to need room in the freezer for pig after all. Mmmm… Bacon!