Posts Tagged ‘bacon’

It’s National Bacon Lover’s Day!

 

And who doesn’t love bacon? …Especially when you can slather it on anything with this fabulous aioli!

Don’t let the innocent photo fool you. This stuff is addictive, thanks to the addition of bacon and bacon fat! And the food processor makes this aioli light as a cloud. Spread it on burgers. Use it on a BLT. Goes great with tuna. Or just get some chips and use it as a dip. Inhale!

 

avocado

 

3 avocados, seed removed and scooped out of their skins
6 strips of bacon, fried crisp, chopped and cooled…bacon fat reserved
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, room temperature
1 clove garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, preferably Fleur de Sel
Freshly grated black pepper

In a food processor, blend the avocados, bacon pieces, lemon juice and zest, eggs, and garlic. With the processor still running, add the bacon fat slowly, then add the olive oil. Add a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

You can substitute vegetable oil for the olive oil if you feel it’s too strong. But this is not for the weak!

Note: Yes, this baby uses raw eggs. If you’re queasy about that, there are raw egg substitutes in many supermarkets. I don’t use raw eggs often, but I do here…and in a really good Caesar salad.

The original recipe for this white bean soup used bits of bacon. But it just so happened that I was planning on slow-cooking a pork shoulder in my smoker today. When the smoked pork met the white bean soup, it was a match made in pig heaven!

 

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 smashed garlic clove
3 cans (15 1/2 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, 1 1/2 cups reserved
40 oz. veal bone broth or chicken broth (homemade is best)
1/4 teaspoon bouquet garni
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Bacon fat and/or olive oil
A slab of slow-cooked smoked pork shoulder, pulled and shredded

 

In a large heavy saucepan, sauté the onion, fennel, and garlic in bacon fat or olive oil until they are tender, about 8 minutes.

Drain and rinse the cannellini beans, reserving 1 1/2 cups for later. Pour the beans in the saucepan.

Add the veal (or chicken) broth, the bouquet garni, and the salt and pepper.

Simmer for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it cool for 15 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, until smooth.

Return the soup to the pot and add the reserved beans. Heat it for 10 minutes, and then taste it, adding more salt and pepper, if needed.

 

 

To serve, place a mound of the pork, cubed or pulled, in the center of a bowl. Pour the soup on top, and drizzle with a touch of extra virgin olive oil. Chopped scallions, or fresh chives, or parsley on top never hurt!

 

 

 

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

 

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

 

Just out of the smoker! Diamond-shaped slashes in the fat allow more of the rub to penetrate while curing.

 

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well.

An important note: all Kosher salts do not all weigh the same! The two largest brands, Morton’s and Diamond Crystal, for example, are very different (Morton’s is heavier), so always go by the weight and not by a cup measurement.

Once the dry cure is mixed, I keep it stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be makin’ the bacon, I combine the dry cure with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My improved bacon rub:

1 cup basic dry cure (above)
3 tablespoons Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal in my recipes, for consistency)
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

Mix these ingredients well. Rub it generously all over the pork belly. I like to slash the fat side of the pork belly with a knife, to make sure the rub permeates the meat.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, push the belly down into the liquid, then put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

 

Pork belly in…bacon out!

 

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has cured, rinse the belly with cold clean water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours…or smoke it. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for at least 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

Smoked bacon

And now it’s bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort.
Smoking the pork belly won’t necessarily cook it all the way through, so you still have to slice it and fry it before eating. (Would you eat a raw package of bacon from the store? …Exactly!) That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make two or three? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!
Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

 

Slicing the bacon up for freezing.

I’ve had Clams Casino in many different forms. Back when I worked in Italian restaurants in New York, we would make a breadcrumb mixture, press it onto a freshly opened whole clam, and then place a small piece of bacon on top before it went into the oven. It was good, but the clam often stuck to the shell, and many people didn’t want to gulp down a whole clam like that.

 

Oyster knife (left) and a clam knife (right.) Different tools for different jobs.

 

When it was time for me to make my own recipe, I decided that I would chop the clams and mix them into the breadcrumb mix, so that every bite was the same.

 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (about a 1/2 an onion)
2 garlic cloves, squeezed through a garlic press
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 dozen medium neck clams
1/3 lb. bacon, cut in small squares to fit the clam shells
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté them until they’re translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for 10 seconds. Add the wine and simmer for a minute. Add the bread crumbs, and stir the mixture until it becomes thicker, like a paste. Add the parsley and oregano. Season with pepper. (There’s going to be plenty of salt in the clam juice and bacon, so no salt is needed.)

The bread crumb mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.
It’s time to open the clams. If you know how to do that, open them over a sieve with a bowl underneath so that the clam meats and juices are captured. Discard any broken shells, but save the good ones.
If you struggle with opening clams, this method makes it a little easier: Bring a large pot of water to boil, and drop the clams into it, about 10 at a time, for 30 seconds. Don’t let them open! Remove the clams with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. Continue doing this in small batches until all the clams have been in the water. You’ll find this makes opening the clams much easier. Then proceed as above.
Once you’ve shucked all the clams, let the clam juice sit for a bit, so that any grit settles to the bottom of the bowl. Then pour off the clean clam juice and add it to your bread crumb mixture. (Don’t worry if it looks soggy at this point.)

Looking a little soggy, but that’s OK.

I like to hand chop the clam meats instead of using a food processor. You want tasty clam chunks, not too big but not mush. Add the clams to the the bread crumb mix.
At this point, if the clam mix looks very soggy, simply add a little more bread crumb to dry it out.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with foil. Separate the clam shell halves and wash them, making sure you don’t have any shell fragments left in the clam shell.  Fill them with the clam mixture, mounding them slightly, and placing each one on the baking sheet.

Clams and bacon…delicious!

Cut the bacon in small squares to fit the clam shells. Place a small piece of raw bacon on the top of each clam.
Bake until the clams are just cooked through, the topping is golden, and the bacon is cooked, about 30 minutes.

This makes a great appetizer, but it’s hard to just eat a few!

I’ve been experimenting with my coffee rub, one that combines coffee with cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, garlic and onion. I’ve tried it on various cuts of beef, on chicken, and pork…and it works well on everything!

 

A Berkshire pork belly, cured for several weeks, then rinsed.

 

I took some of the rub and cured a beautiful Berkshire pork belly with it, to make bacon. I simply scored the fat side of the belly, then massaged both sides of the belly with the rub, and placed it in a container in the fridge for several weeks. I flipped it over every few days to allow both sides of the belly to come in contact with the liquid that formed when the salt in the rub extracted moisture from the meat. After several weeks, I removed the belly from the container and rinsed it well with clean water, drying it with paper towels. I then re-rubbed the pork belly with more of the coffee rub and placed it in the smoker for 2 hours at 250 degrees, smoking it with hickory, my favorite wood for bacon.

 

The pork belly, re-rubbed and ready to smoke.

 

It just so happened that on the weekend I was smoking the belly, I decided to smoke a couple of racks of pork ribs for myself. These also came from a beautiful heritage Berkshire pig, and I coated them with the coffee rub, allowing them to rest in the fridge for 24 hours putting them in the smoker.

 

The Berkshire pork ribs, rubbed and ready to smoke. I cut the racks in half for easier handling.

 

Since the ribs and belly were in the smoker at the same time, the ribs first smoked at 250 degrees with hickory along with the bacon, for about 2 hours. Once I removed the bacon, I dropped the temperature of the smoker to 225, and smoked the ribs for 2 more hours. I then removed the ribs, sprinkled them with a little more coffee rub, and wrapped them in aluminum foil, before returning them to the smoker for another hour.

 

 

The ribs, and the bacon, were absolute perfection!

 

 

The ribs, smoked for several hours.

 

Re-sprinkling a little coffee rub on the ribs.

 

Wrapping the half-racks in foil. Some go back to the smoker, some head for the freezer to be enjoyed later.

 

Since I had 2 full racks of ribs, more than enough for several meals, I cut each rack in half before smoking for easier handling. Once I wrapped them in foil, I let a couple of them cool on the counter before placing them in a freezer bag and putting them in the freezer for future use. Already smoked and cured, all I’ll need to do is take a foil package out of the freezer, and place it in a 250-degree oven for a couple of hours to warm the ribs up and make them fall-off-the-bone tender.

 

The ribs, after another hour in the foil.

 

Here’s my coffee rub recipe. Make a lot of it and use it on everything from burgers to whole chickens to pulled pork sandwiches.

 

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Rib perfection!

 

I love shrimp scampi, and had the need to satisfy my cravings the other day. But what started as a simple scampi recipe, turned into something a bit more. I may never make scampi the same way again!

 

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1 lb. wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and de-veined
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons Spirgučiai (see below)
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, sliced
oregano, for sprinkling

 

Thaw the shrimp under cold water. Place in a colander to drain.

Spirgučiai is a Lithuanian favorite: chopped bacon and onions, fried until crisp and usually sprinkled over anything and everything in Lithuanian cooking. I always have some in my fridge, already prepared and just waiting to be used.

In a saucepan on medium heat, combine the butter, olive oil, parsley, garlic salt, oregano, onion, pepper and Spirgučiai.  Heat only until everything melts and combines. Don’t let it burn. (If you don’t have Spirgučiai, all you need to do is take a couple of slices of bacon, chop them up, and fry them in a pan until crisp. Keep the bacon and the fat in the pan and then add the butter, olive oil, parsley, garlic salt, oregano, onion and pepper.)

In a small sheet pan lined with foil, lay the shrimp in a single layer and cook them halfway in a pre-heated 400-degree oven to remove the moisture from the shrimp.

Take the pan out of the oven, and drain off the moisture, if any. Pour the butter mix from the saucepan all over the shrimp and toss to coat. Return the shrimp to the oven for a few minutes, until they’ve heated through and are almost completely cooked. (Careful: never over-cook shrimp!)

Take the pan out of the oven, and place pieces of mozzarella on top, garnishing with a little oregano. Set the oven on broil and cook until the cheese has melted.

Slice with a spatula and serve on top of pasta, making sure you get some of that buttery scampi sauce.

 

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As a low-carb option, you can serve this on broccoli or roasted spaghetti squash.

Don’t let the innocent photo fool you. This stuff is addictive, thanks to the addition of bacon and bacon fat! And the food processor makes this aioli light as a cloud. Spread it on burgers. Use it on a BLT. Goes great with tuna. Or just get some chips and use it as a dip. Inhale!

 

avocado

 

3 avocados, seed removed and scooped out of their skins
6 strips of bacon, fried crisp, chopped and cooled…bacon fat reserved
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, room temperature
1 clove garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, preferably Fleur de Sel
Freshly grated black pepper

In a food processor, blend the avocados, bacon pieces, lemon juice and zest, eggs, and garlic. With the processor still running, add the bacon fat slowly, then add the olive oil. Add a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

You can substitute vegetable oil for the olive oil if you feel it’s too strong. But this is not for the weak!

Note: Yes, this baby uses raw eggs. If you’re queasy about that, there are raw egg substitutes in many supermarkets. I don’t use raw eggs often, but I do here…and in a really good Caesar salad.

Well, it’s good to be back home after a nice getaway in St. Lucia. Please check out my previous blogs for my day-to-day adventures. I’ll have more to say in a future blog.

One of the first things I needed to do when I got home was to have a look at food items I needed to re-stock…and bacon was high on the list!

Fortunately, I started curing a beautiful slab of Berkshire pork belly a couple of weeks ago, and it was ready for the smoker today. With the doors open here at home, I can smell the hickory wood wafting through the yard. Hope I’m making the neighbors jealous!

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be making’ the bacon, I combine the above rub with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry rub

1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has been cured, wash the brine off the meat, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Smoked bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

Sometimes the happiest of cooking accidents happen with bacon. My original plan was to make Chinese-style honey ribs for dinner. But instead of pulling a nice rack of ribs out of the freezer, I accidentally took out a slab of pork belly. I only realized my mistake when I thawed it and started cooking it, so I decided to continue the process with the pork belly instead. The results were pretty damn tasty.

 

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Marinade:
¾ cup light soy sauce
6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork belly
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth
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Mix the marinade ingredients. Set aside.
Cut the pork belly into pieces that are about 3 inches square. Place them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring it to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
Place the pork belly pieces on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Coat them with marinade while they’re still hot. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the pork belly pieces on the sheet pan for 30 minutes.
While the pork belly is baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
When the pork belly pieces have finished baking, add them (and any fat or liquid in the pan) to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for at least 15 minutes or until the meat is tender.
Turn the heat on high, uncover the pot and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze that coats the ribs. Reduce the heat as the sauce thickens to avoid the sugars in the honey from burning. When the pieces are sticky and gooey, they are ready!
Let a piece of pork belly cool…then slice the to the desired thickness and fry it like regular bacon….or just pop it in your mouth like pork candy!
Makes an amazing omelet!
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Not a very complex idea. I just put the stuff that’s usually on the outside, on the inside of my burgers. Why? Why not?

If I’m making bacon cheeseburgers to bring to a barbecue, even if it’s on my back deck, instead of bringing a package of bacon and a package of cheese and a stack of burgers, I’ve got all the ingredients conveniently in the patties. And as the burgers cook, the fat from the bacon and the gooey cheese melt and combine with the burger meat to make a really tasty and moist burger.

I make 2 lbs. of burgers at a time, using grass-fed beef.

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2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked crisp, cooled and crumbled
garlic salt
avocado oil or pork fat

 

In a bowl, combine the beef, the cheese and the bacon, mixing well so that all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Form the beef into 1/4 lb. patties. Refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook to firm them up.

Heat a cast iron skillet and add a drop of oil or pork fat. Place the burgers in the hot skillet to sear and sprinkle with the garlic salt. When browned, flip the burgers and place the skillet in a 350-degree oven to finish cooking.

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