One of America’s Favorites – Bacon

September 23, 2019 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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A strip of cooked side (streaky) bacon

Bacon is a type of salt-cured pork. Bacon is prepared from several different cuts of meat, typically from the pork belly or from back cuts, which have less fat than the belly. It is eaten on its own, as a side dish (particularly in breakfasts), or used as a minor ingredient to flavour dishes (e.g., the club sandwich). Bacon is also used for barding and larding roasts, especially game, including venison and pheasant. The word is derived from the Old High German bacho, meaning “buttock”, “ham” or “side of bacon”, and is cognate with the Old French bacon.

Meat from other animals, such as beef, lamb, chicken, goat, or turkey, may also be cut, cured, or otherwise prepared to resemble bacon, and may even be referred to as, for example, “turkey bacon”. Such use is common in areas with significant Jewish and Muslim populations as both religions prohibit the consumption of pork. Vegetarian bacons such as “soy bacon” also exist and attract vegetarians and vegans.

Cured side bacon in a pan

Bacon is cured through either a process of injecting with or soaking in brine, known as wet curing, or using plain crystal salt, known as dry curing. Bacon brine has added curing ingredients, most notably sodium nitrite (or less often, potassium nitrate), which speed the curing and stabilize color. Fresh bacon may then be dried for weeks or months in cold air, or it may be smoked or boiled. Fresh and dried bacon are typically cooked before eating, often by pan frying. Boiled bacon is ready to eat, as is some smoked bacon, but they may be cooked further before eating. Differing flavours can be achieved by using various types of wood, or less common fuels such as corn cobs or peat. This process can take up to eighteen hours, depending on the intensity of the flavor desired. The Virginia Housewife (1824), thought to be one of the earliest American cookbooks, gives no indication that bacon is ever not smoked, though it gives no advice on flavoring, noting only that care should be taken lest the fire get too hot. In early American history, the curing and smoking of bacon (like the making of sausage) seems to have been one of the few food-preparation processes not divided by gender.

Bacon is distinguished from other salt-cured pork by differences in the cuts of meat used and in the brine or dry packing. Historically, the terms “ham” and “bacon” referred to different cuts of meat that were brined or packed identically, often together in the same barrel. Today, ham is defined as coming from the hind portion of the pig and brine specifically for curing ham includes a greater amount of sugar, while bacon is less sweet, though ingredients such as brown sugar or maple syrup are used for flavor. Bacon is similar to salt pork, which in modern times is often prepared from similar cuts, but salt pork is never smoked, and has a much higher salt content.

For safety, bacon may be treated to prevent trichinosis, caused by Trichinella, a parasitic roundworm which can be destroyed by heating, freezing, drying, or smoking. Sodium polyphosphates, such as sodium triphosphate, may also be added to make the product easier to slice and to reduce spattering when the bacon is pan-fried.

Varieties differ depending on the primal cut from which they are prepared. Different cuts of pork are used for making bacon depending on local preferences.

Uncured pork belly

* Side bacon, or streaky bacon, comes from the pork belly. It has long alternating layers of fat and muscle running parallel to the rind. This is the most common form of bacon in the United States.
* Pancetta is an Italian form of side bacon, sold smoked or unsmoked (aqua). It is generally rolled up into cylinders after curing, and is known for having a strong flavor.
* Back bacon contains meat from the loin in the middle of the back of the pig. It is a leaner cut, with less fat compared to side bacon. Most bacon consumed in the United Kingdom and Ireland is back bacon.
* Collar bacon is taken from the back of a pig near the head.
* Cottage bacon is made from the lean meat from a boneless pork shoulder that is typically tied into an oval shape.
* Jowl bacon is cured and smoked cheeks of pork. Guanciale is an Italian jowl bacon that is seasoned and dry cured but not smoked.
The inclusion of skin with a cut of bacon, known as the ‘bacon rind’, varies, though is less common in the English-speaking world.

The term bacon on its own generally refers to side bacon, which is the most popular type of bacon sold in the US. Back bacon is known as “Canadian bacon” or “Canadian-style bacon”, and is usually sold pre-cooked and thick-sliced. American bacons include varieties smoked with hickory, mesquite or applewood and flavourings such as chili pepper, maple, brown sugar, honey, or molasses. A side of unsliced bacon is known as “slab bacon”.

Grilled pork belly

The United States and Canada have seen an increase in the popularity of bacon and bacon-related recipes, dubbed “bacon mania”. The sale of bacon in the US has increased significantly since 2011. Sales climbed 9.5% in 2013, making it an all-time high of nearly $4 billion in US. In a survey conducted by Smithfield, 65% of Americans would support bacon as their “national food”. Dishes such as bacon explosion, chicken fried bacon, and chocolate-covered bacon have been popularised over the internet, as has using candied bacon. Recipes spread quickly through both countries’ national media, culinary blogs, and YouTube. Restaurants have organised and are organising bacon and beer tasting nights, The New York Times reported on bacon infused with Irish whiskey used for Saint Patrick’s Day cocktails, and celebrity chef Bobby Flay has endorsed a “Bacon of the Month” club online, in print, and on national television.

Commentators explain this surging interest in bacon by reference to what they deem American cultural characteristics. Sarah Hepola, in a 2008 article in Salon.com, suggests a number of reasons, one of them being that eating bacon in the modern, health-conscious world is an act of rebellion: “Loving bacon is like shoving a middle finger in the face of all that is healthy and holy while an unfiltered cigarette smoulders between your lips.” She also suggests bacon is sexy (with a reference to Sarah Katherine Lewis’ book Sex and Bacon), kitsch, and funny. Hepola concludes by saying that “Bacon is American”.

Alison Cook, writing in the Houston Chronicle, argues the case of bacon’s American citizenship by referring to historical and geographical uses of bacon. Early American literature echoes the sentiment—in Ebenezer Cooke’s 1708 poem The Sot-Weed Factor, a satire of life in early colonial America, the narrator already complains that practically all the food in America was bacon-infused.

On 1 February 2017, The Ohio Pork Council released a report that demand for pork belly (bacon) product is outpacing supply. As of December 2016 national frozen pork belly inventory totaled 17.8 million lb (8.1 million kg), the lowest level in 50 years.

Bacon and egg on toast, garnished with a strawberry

Bacon dishes include bacon and eggs, bacon, lettuce, and tomato (BLT) sandwiches, Cobb salad, and various bacon-wrapped foods, such as scallops, shrimp, and asparagus. Recently invented bacon dishes include chicken fried bacon, chocolate covered bacon, and the bacon explosion. Tatws Pum Munud is a traditional Welsh stew, made with sliced potatoes, vegetables and smoked bacon. Bacon jam and bacon marmalade are also commercially available.

In the US and Europe, bacon is commonly used as a condiment or topping on other foods, often in the form of bacon bits. Streaky bacon is more commonly used as a topping in the US on such items as pizza, salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, baked potatoes, hot dogs, and soups. In the US, sliced smoked back bacon is used less frequently than the streaky variety, but can sometimes be found on pizza, salads, and omelettes.

Bacon is also used in adaptations of dishes; for example, bacon wrapped meatloaf, and can be mixed in with green beans or served sautéed over spinach.

Bacon fat liquefies and becomes drippings when it is heated. Once cool, it firms into a form of lard. Bacon fat is flavourful and is used for various cooking purposes. Traditionally, bacon grease is saved in British and southern US cuisine, and used as a base for cooking and as an all-purpose flavouring, for everything from gravy to cornbread to salad dressing.

In Germany, Griebenschmalz is a popular spread made from bacon lard.

Bacon is often used for a cooking technique called barding consisting of laying or wrapping strips of bacon or other fats over a roast to provide additional fat to a lean piece of meat. It is often used for roast game birds, and is a traditional method of preparing beef filet mignon, which is wrapped in strips of bacon before cooking. The bacon itself may afterwards be discarded or served to eat, like cracklings. It may also be cut into lardons.

One teaspoon (4 g or 0.14 oz) of bacon grease has 38 calories (40 kJ/g). It is composed almost completely of fat, with very little additional nutritional value. Bacon fat is roughly 40% saturated. Despite the disputed health risks of excessive bacon grease consumption, it remains popular in the cuisine of the American South.

Alternatives
Several alternatives to and substitutes for bacon have been developed for those who cannot or prefer not to eat standard pork bacon.

Turkey bacon

Turkey bacon cooking in skillet.

Turkey bacon is an alternative to bacon. People may choose turkey bacon over real bacon due to health benefits, religious laws, or other reasons. It is lower in fat and food energy than bacon, but may be used in a similar manner (such as in a BLT sandwich).

The meat for turkey bacon comes from the whole turkey and can be cured or uncured, smoked, chopped, and reformed into strips that resemble bacon. Turkey bacon is cooked by pan-frying. Cured turkey bacon made from dark meat can be 90% fat free. The low fat content of turkey bacon means it does not shrink while being cooked and has a tendency to stick to the pan.

Macon
Macon is another alternative to bacon, produced by curing cuts of mutton in a manner similar to the production of pork bacon. Historically produced in Scotland, it was introduced across Britain during World War II as a consequence of rationing. It is today available as an alternative to bacon, produced for the Muslim market and sold at halal butchers; it is largely similar in appearance to pork bacon except for the darker color.

Vegetarian bacon
Vegetarian bacon, also referred to as facon, veggie bacon, or vacon, is a product marketed as a bacon alternative. It has no cholesterol, is low in fat, and contains large amounts of protein and fibre. Two slices contain about 310 kilojoules (74 kcal). Vegetarian bacon is usually made from marinated strips of textured soy protein or tempeh.

 

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