All about Bacon

Dandelion Green Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing, Two Ways

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

It’s Camp Bacon week! In honor of the book that started it all, here’s an excerpt from our collection of recipes.

This recipe came courtesy of Francois Vecchio, one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of cured pork I’ve ever met. Once you know his background, you can see why. He grew up in Switzerland in the 1940s (“It was war outside of our little Swiss world,” he recalled). His father’s father was Piemontese, but moved to Geneva where he became a butcher. The roots are equally strong on his mother’s side. “My gran’pa,” he told me, “had the best restaurant in Geneva, Restaurant Chouard. He had learned his trade in London, Aswan, Davos and the Black Forest.”

After years of traveling the world while apprenticing as a butcher, Francois ended up in the family meat business based in Ticino. Eventually he moved to the States, where he has been involved in a wide range of efforts to cure traditional European salamis, hams and, of course, bacon. He’s now retired to Alaska, after living in California for decades. Alaska, Francois says, harkens back to his youth in the Alps—“It’s probably that old addiction, which makes me choose Alaska,” he explained, “the space here was in the mountains, rocks and glaciers…”

(The Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook, published in 1961, recommends that you “never use dandelion greens that have begun to flower, because they are apt to be bitter.” More on the Pennsylvania Dutch in a minute.) “Washing,” Francois went on, “is a chore and some sand always sticks around to the plate. The miracle occurs when on a first drizzling of balsamic vinegar and some brown mustard, I pour the hot rendering and sizzling and crisp diced bacon.” “My grandmother always claimed that it purges the liver of all the winter miasms,” he added. I don’t have data to support his grandmother’s claim, but I do know the salad is very good…

Interestingly, as we were working to transform Francois’ notes into culinary reality, the woman who was doing our testing—Jean Henry—shared her own experience out of the German tradition here in the U.S., bringing the bacon story full circle. “I grew up with a Pennsylvania Dutch version of this salad,” she emailed the same evening she saw Francois’ version.

“We also went out with our Pennsylvania Dutch babysitter and gathered the greens, before they were too large and bitter. We also gathered up the rosette of new leaves in a bunch and cut to the crown with a paring knife run round it. I always thought this was to prevent the plant from returning and to get all the smallest leaves—the Pennsylvania Dutch are always very efficient. We later cut off the root stalk. We triple washed the greens in the deep sink then spun them dry while the bacon cooked. And we always picked the greens as close to mealtime as possible…”

Ingredients:

8 ounces (about 4 slices) pancetta, diced

8 ounces fresh dandelion greens, stems removed

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Coarse sea salt to taste

Freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper to taste

Procedure:

Fry the pancetta over medium heat until crisp.

While the pancetta is cooking wash the greens, then spin or pat them very dry. Place them in a warm, but not hot, serving bowl.

When the pancetta is done, immediately pour it and all its drippings straight from the skillet over the greens. If you need more fat, you can add a bit of olive oil. Toss immediately so that the hot fat wilts the greens a bit.

Spoon the mustard onto the greens, then sprinkle on the vinegar, then toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste, toss one more time and serve right away.

(Francois adds, “My grandma even tossed a spoon of flour on the greens to soak more of the extra hot fat, it was fabulous but probably hard to convey to today’s consumers.” Feel free to try it at home.)

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish

FOR THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH VERSION:

Substitute an American smoked bacon for the pancetta—Jean Henry recommends the Arkansas peppered bacon. For the dressing, whisk together all of the ingredients: 2 teaspoons of a sweet, smooth German-style mustard, 1 egg, a teaspoon or so of sugar, 3 tablespoons of good apple cider vinegar, about 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat, and salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the dandelion greens immediately.

Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon


Serve Up a Bacon Board at Your House!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Zingerman’s 5th Annual Camp Bacon is coming up! In honor of the fun, how about cooking up a Bacon Board? Here’s a way to make bacon eating as educational as it is enjoyable! The way we see it, if everything is better with bacon, we could make everything four or five times better by serving four or five different bacons every time we entertain.

If you’re having company for brunch why not buy a range of different bacons and let your guests experience their respective flavors—tasting one bacon next to another is incredibly interesting and delicious. Even for lunch, why not cook up a couple different bacons—let your kids sample and compare. It’s a great way to practice adjectives (“What do you think each bacon tastes like?”), geography (“Where does this bacon come from?”), etc. It works for cheese, right? We’re all used to serving four or five cheeses on a cheese board so that our guests can taste, compare and enjoy the diversity of flavors and textures. Why not take the same tack for bacon?


Cooking Bacon

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

In honor of Camp Bacon, we’re sharing an excerpt from A Pocket Book of Bacon that comes to you with one of your yummy shipments of the Bacon Club from Zingerman’s Mail Order. We’ll also have a few of these books on hand at the Street Fair. Enjoy!

Different method, different texture, different flavor. We recommend trying ’em all and choosing your favorite for the recipe at hand. Note that if you need drippings for your recipe, you’ll want to cook your bacon in the skillet or oven.

Skillet

The key here is to start with a cold skillet. We like to use a well-seasoned cast iron pan, though a non-stick pan works well too. Place the pieces of bacon side-by-side in the skillet, and turn the heat to medium. When the bacon starts to brown, check to see if it releases easily and carefully turn it using tongs. Cook on the second side until it’s done to your liking. Note that some bacons, like Irish back bacon, will cook much faster than others. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Oven

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cover a large baking sheet (one with a 1/2- to 3/4-inch lip to catch the grease) with parchment paper or foil. Place the raw bacon side-by-side on the parchment paper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until bacon is done to your liking. Remove bacon to paper towel-lined plates and pat dry.

Microwave

There are many tools out there to help you with your microwaved-bacon skills—many available on infomercials on late night television. We’ve chosen the good ol’ plate-and-paper-towel method here, which works great for a few slices. In this procedure, you will not get any usable drippings. Line a microwave-safe plate with several layers of paper towel. Lay up to 6 slices of bacon across the towels. Cover the bacon with a few more layers of paper towel. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. (Cooking time will vary according to the microwave and number of slices of bacon you have.) Remove the bacon from the paper towels and serve.

Campfire

You can cook your bacon in an iron skillet over the fire just like on the stove at home. If you’re feeling a wee bit more adventurous, you can also cook it on a stick. The risks of losing a slice of bacon to the fire are about equal to that of roasting marshmallows over an open fire, so if you get emotional over lost bacon you might not want to try it. The perfect time to roast is when you’ve got a nice layer of hot coals going and the fire is not too high. Fold a slice into thirds and skewer it on a long stick. Roast it until it’s cooked to your liking.

Save Your Bacon Fat

Next time you cook a batch of bacon, let the grease cool until it’s safe enough to pour through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth into a glass canning jar. Make sure to filter out the small bits of meat that could cause the fat to go rancid. Keep it around for those times when you want to add more flavor to your dish than you’d get from a spoon of butter or olive oil. How should you store it? Folks have been resting jars of bacon fat next to their stoves for centuries without much incident so you can certainly go that route. For safety’s sake, we generally recommend storing it in your fridge where it can last months. John T. Edge, writer, culinary historian, and cultural commentator par excellence grew up in Georgia where his mother always kept a Dundee jam jar filled with bacon grease next to the stove: “She started every dish with a glug of bacon fat.” Sounds like heaven.

A Few Ways to Put Bacon to Work in Your Kitchen

Wrap a dried date (or one of your favorite dried fruits) and a piece of cheese with a half-slice of bacon. Run a toothpick through it and bake it in the oven.

Try an Ojibway tradition and top your oatmeal with a few chopped slices of cooked bacon.

A tip we learned from the Romans: drop a raw slice of bacon rind into your pasta water to enhance the flavor of your pasta.

For 42 more ways to put bacon to work in your kitchen, see Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon or email us for more ideas at zingpress (at) zingermans (dot) com.


Get ready, Chicago!

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

We’re headed to the 3rd Annual Pastoral Artisan Producer Festival on the 27th of April. Make your travel plans now–there will be plenty of great food to taste. This a FREE tasting and meet-the-maker event featuring producers of artisan cheese, bread, beer, wine, charcuterie, confections, and other food stuffs.

John and Aubrey from Zingerman’s Creamery will be there with a wonderful array of cheeses, alongside some of our favorite artisan producers.

Right there with them, Ari will be talking about bacon and books! Among our hand-picked books that will be available, he’ll have The Story of Traditional Wisconsin Cheese on hand.

Stop by, say hi, and treat yourself to a yummy book-buying experience.

 


Tasty Excerpts and Recipes

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Zingerman’s 4th Annual Camp Bacon is coming soon and to help get everyone prepared, we’re sharing tasty excerpts and recipes from Ari’s book, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon over at the Zingerman’s Community blog. We’ll be sharing some here too!

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In Adventures of a Bacon Curer, one-named British author Maynard (“may-NARD”) mentions a no-longer-existent pig-related profession: the journeyman-curer. In early 20-century England this was the man who “would come down and kill the pig. He would stop overnight and cure the pig the next day, and that was the ritual. It was important that he did it correctly as that was the main meat source for the winter.”

In her Irish Traditional Cooking, Darina Allen describes a similar scene: “…on my relative’s farm in Tipperary,” she writes, “a local man skilled in the killing of pigs would arrive on an ass’s cart, bringing all the tools of the trade — a mallet, a knife, a saw, an apron, and a galvanized bath. He was highly thought of and had to be booked ahead.” I can’t say that these journeymen have disappeared entirely, but I’ve not (yet!) heard tell of one still in business.

No one I’ve asked in the U.S. remembers such curers here. The closest I came was in a story from baconmaker extraordinaire, Allen Benton: “In the hills of Virginia, it was common to have someone in the community who would go around at hog butchering time and help the neighbors slaughter the hogs and help work up the meat. They were usually paid either money or in fresh pork.”

Back in Britain, Maynard writes that there are quite a few stories about the old journeyman-curers and how they were compensated. “Sometimes they were paid in surprising ways,” he writes, “And sometimes,” he goes on, “they left a few children behind.”


A Pocket Book of Bacon

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

photo-11Working with the folks at Zingerman’s Mail Order, we’ve put together a pocket book of bacon. This little keepsake primer comes to you with your first shipment of the Bacon Club! It includes a bit of bacon history, a quick-read glossary, information on smoke & cure, and instructions for cooking it–from the microwave, to the stove, to the oven, to the fire!