Bacon inspires lust in the culinary world. I mean, also bacon inspires lust in me personally, but also I have yet to see any major, non-vegetarian chef who is not completely enamored of the stuff, and rightly so. It’s smoky, sweet, salty, fatty, versatile, and jam-packed with savory, porky goodness. Bacon tattoos are not uncommon, and word on the street is that a certain New York chef has the word “bacon” tattooed on the inside of his lower lip. It’s not a bad idea, really.
But I rarely have bacon when I need it. And when do I not need it? The stuff they sell at the regular grocery store is in violation of the humanely-raised policy, and I’ve yet to live close enough to a WhoFo that I can just jaunt out at 8 am on a Sunday to grab a package when we’re all craving a bacon scramble. **A bacon scramble is NOT when you fry up a bunch of bacon and then toss it in the yard for greedy children to chase and bicker over at length, though I don’t think that’s a bad idea, either.
Target used to carry the Niman Ranch bacon, which was excellent. Niman Ranch was one of the first large, humane operations for pork production. They love their piggies. I love their piggies. We have a common goal of wanting the piggies to be happy and healthy up until the point that they become part of the food chain. I think God wants it that way. I don’t think he’d take kindly to us mistreating the creatures he sent to feed us. So I’m thinking of petitioning the religious right to take up the cause of humane farming. It’s about time they did something that was ACTUALLY in line with Christian values and not just in line with pissing me off. Anyway. I sent Target a letter thanking them for carrying humanely-raised options, and their VP of sales called me personally to thank me and let me know that they were working hard to expand their humanely-raised options to include even more, and that it was a cause to which they were committed. I almost drove down to Target headquarters and offered him a “J” of some variety. I didn’t, though, because I don’t know where headquarters are located.
Three months later, the product was no longer on the shelves. Assholes. That’ll teach me to withhold lovin’ from top executives who take time from their busy secretary-nailing, stapler-hoarding schedules to call me and thank me for giving a rat’s ass.
So now they’ve got the regular options and nothing more. Like Bar S Bacon (motto: “You can taste the suffering in every bite!”) and other such gems. Fantastic. And while we’re LOUSY with humane, local beef around here, there haven’t been any local pork farms that I’ve seen in my endless Googling or farmer’s marketing. Woe. The same thing in Texas. I guess it’s just more profitable to raise humane, pastured beef than it is to raise the same quality of pork. That’s also why pork, despite being the most intelligent of the common food animals, is the one that’s most often treated with extreme cruelty.
So what’s my option, then? If I want affordable, delicious, convenient, ethically-uncompromised quantities of bacony goodness in my everyday life?
Buy In Bulk And Fabricate
That means get a wonkload, in its more whole form, and cut it up yourself. It works for damned near everything, and it’s fantastic. I’m discovering that the less people interfere with my food, the better it tastes. Whole fruits and vegetables? Much tastier than precut and packaged. Entire pork belly, cured and smoked? Much tastier than sliced, packaged bacon. Sure, I could buy a pork belly and cure it myself. That’s probably the next step. But I don’t have a source for whole pork belly yet, and WhoFo was more than happy to order me an entire side of bacon for very little money (comparatively, I mean. It’s not markedly cheaper than regular Oscar Meyer bacon, but it’s of much higher quality and ethical standards). And it’s from Niman Ranch! Woot! See all the pieces?
When you buy slab bacon, it tends to come with the “rind” still attached. The rind is just the skin. It’s full of smoke flavor, but chewy and not delicious for eating like regular bacon. It will have to be removed in most cases, but not all. Fortunately, it does have a great fat cap and a lot of flavor benefit to impart, so I stuck the pieces of rind that I removed into a separate baggie for use in flavoring greens and other pork-friendly venues. In that same baggie, for big pots of beans and stews, I put the ends. The ends of the slabs are almost all fat and rind, and while they’d make truly craptacular bacon, they are exactly what the doctor ordered for carnivore baked beans or bean soups or whatever other winter fare you can imagine. Plus, a couple cubes can be rendered down in no time to make lard for tortillas and tamales. But I didn’t tell you that.
Note: Lard is lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated (good) fat than butter and/or shortening
Additional Note: I mean the lard you render at home, not the stuff you buy in shelf-stable bricks at the grocery store. That stuff is hydrogenated and will make the insides of your arteries look like the filling in a Krispy Kreme eclair.
Third Note: You shouldn’t eat large quantities of lard, butter, or shortening or you will become a “lardass.” But moderate use is fine, and should take the first note into consideration.
Back to the blogging grind, then, shall we?
I took some long hunks and set those aside for freshly-sliced breakfast bacon. Individually freezer-wrapped, they’ll keep for quite some time. When is it ever a bad thing to get up on a chilly morning, bust out the meat slicer, and cut thick rashers for your guests? Never. Unless your guests are some streetwalkers you picked up in a moment of serious loneliness, and all you want– ALL YOU WANT– is for them to find whatever remnants of their skeezy edible underwear that your dog hasn’t consumed and LEAVE YOUR HOUSE RIGHT NOW before your housekeeper shows up and tells everyone in the neighborhood that you slept with some chick with a Magnum PI mustache, and it gets back to your mother. Or unless your guests are vegetarian, and for them I have Morningstar sausages, which are deceptively tasty and soy-based.
We set aside big hunks of center-cut bacon for things like braising and experimenting.
The center is less fatty and more meaty, so it seems like it’d be perfect for a slow braise with onions and garlic, and then a quick shred over some mashed potatoes.
I don’t even know how it’ll work out, but I’m game to try. These got individually freezer-wrapped, too. The first time I smell fall leaves in the air, one of these bad boys is going in the dutch oven for the aforementioned braised bacon on mash. It’ll be a miniature celebration. Maybe I’ll use hard cider as my braising liquid. I don’t even KNOW. But it’s going to be epic.
Okay, I’ve saved my favorites for last. IQF lardons. IQF means “individually quick frozen.” Lardon means “thick, meaty cubes (cylinders?) of love.” When I was in school, cutting lardons was a task that was announced with relish and fanfare. Like, “hey, Brandon! Stop looking at my lardon.” Or, “check out the thickness of my lardon.” Or any sentence that used the word “lardon” with a slant toward boner-referencing. And it has to be pronounced “Lard-On,” or you’ll have nowhere near the fun.
Mirth aside, the lardon is magic. It takes the crispy/chewy/unctuous of sliced bacon, but makes it thicker and cube-like. So each bite has a little more fat left inside, and a little more chew to it. When you put a lardon in your mouth, you want it to stay for a minute, am I right? Not just fade away like crispy, sliced bacon. Cutting lardons from sliced bacon is an option, but it doesn’t work as nicely as, say, having a handful that are frozen but not stuck together that you can toss into a pan for anything. Omelettes, green beans, salads, potato salads, baked potatoes. Anything with an egg or a potato that isn’t going to be dessert (and some things that will become dessert) benefit from lardons.
Note: Babies are made when a man and a woman love each other very much, and somebody puts a lardon near an egg.
And pretty much any vegetable dish with lardons will entice the most finicky meat-eaters.
So we cut up a bunch (LOTS) of lardons, then spread them on a sheet tray and put them in a freezer that was set at -2 F. That’s not anything like as cold as a traditional IQF food, but the lardons are small, and you make due with what you can. I left them in the freezer for 20 minutes, at which point they were just starting to get a thin, frozen patina on the outsides. No longer, or I’d suffer freezer burn indignities, but long enough that they wouldn’t stick together in storage. Then I put them in a freezer Ziplock, pushed out much of the air, and then put the whole bag in an industrial strength tupperware-like device to keep in the freezer. Here are a few of the little darlings, though we ended up with a gallon bucket of them in the end.
That was the beginning of a German potato salad. I would have posted pictures of it, but truth be told I lost interest when our friends came over and it was time to eat the potato salad. I’ll make it again soon and post the recipe so you can try it out. It’s good for those of us who aren’t so much into mayonnaise except as a punishment or torture device.
So next time you’re at the market, ask if they can order you a side of slab bacon and cut it up yourselves. It’s a great way to save money, play with textures, get higher quality food, and have access to a thick lardon whenever your little heart desires without having to go to all the trouble of….
You get the idea.