Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Dec 7, 2011
02:10 PMSmall Dishes
Seducer of vegetarians, downfall of pharisees and spoiler of diets, it’s simply irresistible! What most of use recognize as bacon—long slices of pork meat and fat fried to a crisp—is a uniquely American delicacy.
Elsewhere what passes for bacon often isn’t smoked—like the Italian pancetta and French lardons—and is used as a seasoning or for larding meat. However, the name comes from the German word bakkon which means smoked pork. We probably owe our love of the smoked stuff to the English who brought it to our shores. What the Brits prefer as bacon, though, comes from the middle of the back of the pig. The fatter American-style rashers—sometimes called streaky bacon—come from the belly. Bacon can be made using other parts of the pig, including the jowl, hind leg and shoulder, but never turkey or tofu!
The English also gave us the expression “bringing home the bacon”. In the 12th century began a peculiar ritual in Great Dunmow, Essex that continues to this day. The town is renowned for its Flitch Trials. Every four years, married couples gather and try to convince a jury of unmarried local men and women that they’ve never for a year and a day wished they were single. If successful, they’re awarded a side—or flitch—of bacon.
In this country, bacon traditionally is cured using a large quantity of salt—either with a dry rub or brine—and then smoked. Not smoked it’s sold as salt pork. Uncured bacon is increasingly popular and available either smoked or not (sliced side pork and pork belly).
Wisconsin is fortunate to have a wealth of quality bacon makers; probably best known is Neuske’s that inevitably appears on every list of America’s best artisan bacon. Personally, I’m addicted to one of their newer products: uncured, wild cherrywood-smoked bacon. It reminds me of the farm-made bacon my grandmother served me when I was a kid that always tasted so much better than the stuff my mother bought at the grocery store. That said, Metcalfe’s Market always seems to have an exemplary selection of local brands.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that The Old Fashioned take its bacon very seriously. It uses quality Bavaria’s hickory-smoked bacon as an ingredient in many of its specialties including No. 30, its signature cheeseburger. Bacon, of course, is perfect for all kinds of sandwiches and Alchemy Café gives a new spin to an old favorite with its BLFT—bacon, lettuce and fried tomato. (On its winter menu it gets replaced with the Brimley—spinach, tomato, bacon and Muenster cheese.)
The cheddar bacon biscuit at Batch Bakehouse is breakfast in a bun. Take them home, split, toast and sandwich with a fried egg and dollop of mayo and you have the Egg McMuffin of your dreams. A readymade breakfast sandwich awaits at Marigold Kitchen: a ciabatta roll stuffed with fried egg, cheese, tomato and thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon.
The less familiar forms of bacon also proliferate on restaurant menus. One of my all-time favorites at Lombardino’s is ribollita, twice-cooked Tuscan bean soup flavored with guanciale—bacon made from pig jowls. Asian restaurants no doubt are responsible for the rise in the status of pork belly. The pork buns at Umani made with a Chinese-style steamed roll, braised pork belly, hoisin sauce and pickled baby cucumbers are addictively delicious.
Probably the most exotic stop on the local bacon tour is at the Roxbury Tavern. Appropriately, its maxim is “studying cognitive dissonance since 1989”. Only in Wisconsin would dessert be chocolate-covered bacon with two scoops of Babcock ice cream. And, only in Madison would a bar offer free bacon as a promotion: Tuesday nights at Wando’s. Alas, unlike Texas we cannot claim a city named Bacon.
Brown Sugar Glazed Bacon
Also known as Billionaire’s Bacon and Pig Candy, this easy appetizer never fails to please.
1 pound thickly sliced smoked bacon, slices cut in half
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Line a baking pan with parchment paper and place a low metal rack on top of the paper. Arrange the bacon strips on the rack. Combine the brown sugar and pepper in a small bowl and sprinkle liberally over the bacon. Transfer the bacon to the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and carefully drain off the fat. Return the pan to the oven, and continue to bake until the bacon is crisp—about 10 to 15 minutes more. Cool a few minutes and serve warm.
Note: If you have any leftovers (doubtful), chop, combine with grated cheese and use as a topping for grilled burgers.