We’ve been thinking about it, and we’ve decided it’s time you started treating yourself a bit more. Got a raise today? Found a date for Friday night? Scored a sweet parking space? In our book, that means it’s bacon time! “Bacon has certainly achieved celebrity status over the last decade, finding its way on to just about every dish,” says Grant Irvin, chef de cuisine at Austin’s Driskill Hotel. So much in life does get better with bacon, so celebrate with these shining, delicious examples…
“While bacon might be easily paired with many foods, it can often overshadow other flavors,” says Irvin. “There should be a reason for adding bacon to a dish.” So aim to make less flavorful foods exciting with bacon. “Everyone knows of the classic pairing of tomatoes and bacon. That’s why the BLT is such a popular sandwich. The fat from the bacon coats your mouth, making the next bite less flavorful. But the acid from the tomato cleanses your palate, allowing you to savor every bite as if it were the first!” Equally tasty is bacon jam, which goes great with fresh buttermilk biscuits. Try Pillsbury Southern Style Biscuits from Sam’s Club—and splurge on the jam.
Ah, quail, the British royalty staple. Little did King William IV know it would one day be readily available to us commoners. “Quail and bacon make great partners for a couple of reasons,” notes Irvin. “Quail is a very mild game meat. The meatiness of the bacon, especially wild boar bacon, really brings an element to a dish that quail can’t provide. The salt from the bacon also brings out the mild quail flavor, pushing it to the forefront of the dish.” Your own boar bacon wrapped quail can be done with Cabela’s brand, described as having a richer taste than the pork substance. Irvin recommends complementing with cornbread stuffing.
Chicken ’n’ Waffles (and Such)
Think country biscuits are all you can pair with bacon jam? Not so! “I often put it over roasted fingerling potatoes, chicken sausage, chicken sausage sliders and waffles too,” says Marco Chirico, chef and owner of the Marco Polo Ristorante in Brooklyn. “I love bacon jam because it is compacted with a lot of flavor, and it’s an easy spread. It’s really fun for parties, barbecues, whatever.” At home, spread your jam on the Popeye’s chain’s new chicken waffle tenders, grilled chicken sausage from Casual Gourmet Sausage, your very own chicken ‘n’ waffles or baked fingerling potatoes from the frozen aisle. It is all good.
The Classic BLT, Remixed
At Emeril Lagasse’s Table 10 in Las Vegas, chef de cuisine Tim Doolittle says: “Our chicken BLT represents the eternal struggle between good and slightly naughty…chicken, avocado and multigrain bread, healthy and delicious, is made better by adding the succulent North Country Farms bacon. The result is divine. Perhaps balance is the true gateway to culinary enlightenment?” Reach it by ordering your own North Country Farms bacon at NCSmokehouse.com. Find a good country style bakery for the wheat slices, but always ask for your bread unsliced, or there’s a good chance your bread will dry out the next day.
“I’m Italian! We don’t use bacon!” insists Antonio Cagnolo, Executive Chef at Orange County’s Antonello Ristorante. Instead, he prepares a prosciutto, fig and honey bruschetta. “The bruschetta’s surprising combination of flavors will win you over with the first bite. The saltiness of prosciutto, the cured Italian-style bacon, combined with the sweetness of season fig and honey is a home run.” Add about one tablespoon of honey into the jam in this Williams-Sonoma original recipe for your own homemade version, and consider yourself an honorary paisan.
“Oftentimes, we think of bacon as something just to throw on top of something else for an extra flavor, but as chefs, we like to use the saltiness of the bacon to season food as well,” Irvin explains. “Salt brings out flavors, and the salt from bacon can do the same thing. If used moderately, it can intensify the sweet crab flavor and add an additional flavor layer packed with porky goodness.” To make his crispy soft shell crab BLT, Irvin uses heirloom tomatoes, an onion flavored bread roll, locally grown mizuna and Berkshire bacon. Your DIY version can be made with mizuna from Whole Foods and Applewood smoked Berkshire bacon from ChefShop.com.
For Irvin’s breakfast, which he calls Not Your Typical Bacon and Eggs: “It is the egg yolk that goes so well with bacon. Sopping up the rich, creamy yolk with a crispy piece of salty bacon is about as good as it gets. The traditional American breakfast of bacon and eggs has been done a million times, a million ways… because it works!” His morning creation includes “braised and pan roasted triple-cut bacon, sous vide cage free eggs, frisée salad and maple vinaigrette.” If you’re in a rush, focus all your energy on the bacon and eggs. Then mix a maple vinaigrette with olive oil, vinegar, organic maple syrup, pepper and a pinch of Jack Daniel’s Hickory Smoke Mustard for dressing with a kick.
Dates and Prunes
“I love bacon wrapped around dates or prunes,” says food publicist Michael Gartenlaub of Benvenuti Public Relations in New York. “People probably know it as Devils on Horseback, and it’s an awesome combination that’s both sweet and salty in the same bite. Plus, it’s simple to make. Just bake it in the oven until the bacon is crispy. Sometimes, I like to add Gorgonzola cheese, which gets a little gooey when you bake it.” Not sounding macho for you? Throw on some Indian cranberry chutney, either homemade or from Stonewall Kitchen.
“A surefire way to get your kids to eat their veggies: add pancetta or bacon,” says Anthony Scanio, the chef de cuisine at Emeril’s Delmonico in New Orleans’ Garden District. “Our Caramelized Brussels Sprouts are kicked up a notch with our housemade pancetta, tomato and toasted almonds.” Meanwhile, at the Driskill, Irvin serves his sprouts for happy hour—caramelized with honey, Creole spice and homemade chopped bacon bits called bacon lardons. For Emeril’s style, make your friends shout “bam!” by toasting gourmet almonds straight off the California farms from JustAlmonds.com.
“There is something about the salty-sweet combination that we all love,” observes Irvin. “Acorn squash has a wonderful sweet flavor when roasted and creates a fantastic avenue for the saltiness of the bacon to play with. If balanced well, they create a wonderful harmony of flavors.” Recreated Irvin’s Roasted Organic Acorn Squash Salad with beets, Cherrywood smoked bacon, Mexican Cotija cheese, pepitas (small pumpkin seeds) and local farm greens. You can even use the aforementioned maple vinaigrette as your dressing. After all, with bacon all things are possible.
This article was originally published on MadeMan.com, owned by Defy Media. Defy Media closed the website in January 2019. I am thankful for my time spent with my interview subjects and the Mademan.com editorial staff. To keep the articles alive, I have republished everything on my website.