"WHEN it comes to bacon, there are just two kinds of people in the world," write Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama, authors of Bacon Nation.
"Those who adore bacon and those who have never eaten it."
(See what they did there? They made not liking bacon impossible.)
Food writer Kaminsky (Pig Perfect) and Rama, who blogs at There Will Be Bacon, have rounded up 125 recipes for their new cookbook (Workman Publishing, 310 pages, $17.95). Bacon Nation covers all things bacony, from appetizers to desserts.
They want cooks to get on board the bacon express, but that doesn't necessarily mean consuming stacks and stacks of the salty, fatty food. Leaving the extreme bacon experiments to the YouTube maniacs, Rama and Kaminsky avoid what they call "mega-calorie recipes made with unremarkable ingredients smothered with gobs of gloppy cheese and mucho bacon."
They prefer to see bacon as a complex ingredient -- a mysterious encounter of salty, smoky and crispy -- that can enhance and elevate other foods. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of bacon, maybe scattered over steamed cod or crumbled into a dish of lentils, to add another level of taste to familiar dishes. Bacon can be seen as a seasoning rather than a mainstay.
Clearly, bacon is not just for breakfast anymore. In fact, breakfast doesn't come up at all until Chapter 11 of Bacon Nation. On the way there, the authors cover Meatier Meats, Brawnier Birds and Smokier Seafood. And just in case you consider bacon to be the property of Big Meat Eaters, there are plenty of recipes for vegetables, salads, pastas and savoury baking.
Rama and Kaminsky honour bacon's history, rooted in the old days when mothers and grandmothers kept a coffee can of bacon drippings on the back of the stove. But they also experiment with the new, like bacon swizzle sticks, slices of bacon cleverly cooked into spirals to form salty, crispy twists that can be used to stir your bloody caesars. (Move over, celery!) For true believers in the salty-sweet trend, there's a dessert chapter with recipes for chocolate-peanut-bacon toffee, bacon lace cookies, and rum ice cream with bacon bits.
The book also covers the bacon basics. According to Kaminsky and Rama, pan-frying bacon in a heavy cast-iron skillet offers even heat distribution, which is important: "Too hot and the bacon burns. Not hot enough and it is limp and oily." You do need to watch, though. Cooking time will vary with the thickness of the bacon, and you might need to adjust the heat to get a nice steady sizzle.
Rama and Kaminsky also offer directions for bacon baked in the oven -- a good method when cooking for a crowd -- and the microwave. (Nuking bacon initially seemed like heresy, they admit, but they have reconciled themselves to this convenient, spatter-free method.)
It might not be true that everyone loves bacon. But those who like bacon seem to really, really like it. (I believe my Free Press colleague Doug Speirs has mentioned bacon once or twice in his column. He seems to be a fan.)
So, for cooks who believe that "everything tastes better with bacon," here are two recipes from Bacon Nation: a cornbread flecked with bacon, dried cranberries and fennel, and roasted cauliflower spiked with bacon, ginger and curry. Each one puts just a few slices of bacon to very good use.
Bacon and Cranberry Cornbread
45 ml (3 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus butter for greasing the loaf pans
250 ml (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the loaf pans
4 slices bacon, diced
250 ml (1 cup) stone-ground yellow cornmeal
60 ml (1/4 cup) sugar
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder
3 ml (3/4 tsp) baking soda
1 ml (1/4 ml) salt
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) well-shaken buttermilk
2 large eggs
125 ml (1/2 cup) dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
20 ml (4 tsp) fennel seeds, coarsely crushed in a mortar using a pestle or pulsed in an electric spice grinder or mini food processor
Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat oven to 190 C (375 F). Butter two 20 x 10 x 7.5 cm (8 x 4 x 3 inch) metal loaf pans and dust them with flour, knocking off excess.
Cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and most of the fat is rendered, 5-8 minutes, stirring often and adjusting the heat as necessary. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, reserving the bacon fat in the skillet.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, stir together buttermilk, eggs, butter and bacon fat from the skillet. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the well and, using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture until just moistened. Stir in the cranberries, crushed fennel seeds and drained bacon.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans and let stand for 10 minutes. Bake the corn bread until the tops of the loaves are pale golden and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centre of each loaf, 30-35 minutes. Transfer the loaves to wire racks and cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges of each loaf and invert onto the rack and then flip over so each loaf cools right side up. Let the loaves cool completely, about 20 minutes, before serving. The cornbread can be stored in an airtight container for 4-5 days. Makes 2 small loaves.
Source: Bacon Nation
Tester's notes: Super-good, with the moist, comforting texture of good cornbread and a complex meeting of flavours. (If you don't have fennel on hand, you can swap in a little sage.)
Don't be too alarmed by the thought of adding bacon fat to the batter: I used a meaty, naturally smoked bacon and was left with less than 15 ml (1 tbsp) fat in the skillet. And don't be concerned if the amount of batter looks a little meagre in the loaf pans. These loaves aren't meant to rise high.
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil, plus more for oiling the baking dish or broiler pan
1 medium head cauliflower (about 1 kg or 2 lbs), cored and cut into 5-cm (2-inch) florets
2-3 slices thick-cut bacon, coarsely chopped
1 piece (about 2.5 cm or 1 in) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
5 ml (1 tsp) curry powder, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F). Lightly coat a shallow baking dish or broiler pan with olive oil.
Place the cauliflower in the prepared baking dish or broiler pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the cauliflower and toss to coat. Scatter the bacon and ginger over the cauliflower. Sprinkle the curry powder over the cauliflower and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Bake the cauliflower until it is tender but still firm, 25-30 minutes, stirring it once after about 15 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Tester's notes: This is a great melding of tastes, with the bacon playing up the roasted nuttiness of the cauliflower. Rama and Kaminsky point out that you can freestyle a bit here, swapping in pine nuts or golden raisins or Swiss chard or garlic or whatever you like.
One note: I needed a little more time to get the cauliflower to the point where it was browned and slightly crisped and caramelized at the edges.