The smell of sizzling bacon has been known to turn vegetarians. I once worked with a lady who claimed to be veggie but joked that she could not resist “vegetarian bacon” – and on a team away day proved it too! Not only that but for those of a religious persuasion not permitted to devour the swine you can now buy “beef bacon” too!
However, there is something very homely and delicious about proper bacon, cured meat of the pig. Shame that the food production and processing industries did their level best to ruin that with fast-grown pork and injecting the meat with brine to make it quicker and cheaper to cure and sell.
The results when you are frying bacon are patently obvious: brine-injected pork takes much longer to cook, shrivels to nothing, and emits a white watery scum that looks anything but appealing. The flavour is disappointing and not a patch on how real bacon should be. Furthermore, “smoked” bacon is treated with “smoke flavour” rather than smoking in the traditional way. I wish we did not buy such appalling excrement, but those are the current facts of life.
Thankfully, it is possible to obtain traditionally outdoor-reared pork meat and traditionally dry-cured bacon, particularly from local butchers’ shop or online. However, if you have a mind to do so, you can cure your own bacon. It keeps for ages in a cool, airy location (eg. hung up in your garage from the rafters) and tastes exquisite (see here and here.) Not yet done this myself, but I know a man who has. The only downside is that you need a bacon slicer if you intend to cook rashers, unless you have a steady hand an an unerring eye!
There are two basic varieties of bacon: green or smoked. As mentioned above, if you want the sweet smoky flavour of bacon (and that’s my favourite), best to buy some cold smoked in the traditional way. Again, you can do it yourself (see also here) but to do so you would need to create your own smokery with an indirect fire so the smoke wafts over the cured joint without cooking it. Traditionally, bacon is smoked with the rind on, though if you don’t like that it’s easy enough to cut it off while leaving a layer of fat to keep the bacon moist.
If that is too much trouble, ask your butcher how the smoking of his bacon was done – sure he will tell you. Green bacon is also delicious, but the curing and maturing will produce a meaty but smokeless flavour.
Next question is which cut you want. For these purposes I will disregard bacon chops, steaks and joints, delicious though they all are. There are three cuts commonly employed in the UK: streaky, middle and back, though names and cuts differ around the world. If you have a recipe including posh bacon, it will probably be called pancetta, which is simply the Italian cut for salted cured belly pork, aka streaky!
The tendency for most people in this health-conscious age is to select the leanest cut, back. I’d ask you nicely to resist: streaky bacon comes with more fat but that offers by far the best flavour, and has the additional virtue that it will cook to a beautiful crisp, and what can be better in your bacon sarnie than crisp, smoky bacon with your sauce of choice in top notch lightly toasted bread? It may not be the most calorie-conscious breakfast, but as a treat there is nothing better!