Sunday, 11 September 2011

Bacon Jam

The Internet is obsessed with bacon. From a Wikipedia project to improve the quality of articles regarding bacon, to YouTube sensation EpicMealTime's permanent feature of bacon in every show they make, it is difficult to deny its pervasiveness in the culture that has built up from a decade or so of the Information Superhighway. About a year or so ago, a colleague of mine mentioned in passing about trying home-made Bacon Jam. Further enquiries revealed that the recipe was taken off the Internet (where else?).

As it turns out, Bacon Jam was created a couple of years ago by Skillet Street Food, a Seattle-based company burger chain which caters to consumers via burger vans. Needless to say, it captured the imagination of the Internet, and the foodie blogger community made various attempts to recreate it from their own kitchens. A Google search places Not Quite Nigella's recipe as its first result, which took inspiration from an earlier recipe by Homesick Texan. Months of procrastination prevented me from following in their footsteps, until two things happened - I acquired a food processor, and Sainsbury's dropped the price of their Basics cooking bacon to £1 for 670g.

There are two problems with buying and using the cooking bacon. One is the packs containing either rashers, or whole hunks of bacon which have not been sliced into rashers. This is easily avoidable by inspecting the packs before buying. The other is that the rashers are clumped together rather than nicely packed like the other bacon products that Sainsbury's has, making them finicky when teasing the rashers apart to put in sandwiches. We can solve this latter problem by making the whole pack into bacon jam.

The process is relatively straightforward and rather fun, and lists amongst its ingredients maple syrup, vinegar, coffee and of course, bacon. People who have completed the recipe have lauded it for its potpourri of flavours, the sweet, sour, bitter, and salty flavours all melding together and boosted by a chilli kick. Excited, I got together the ingredients, including the coffee.

The last time we did a review on the Basics Ground Coffee we went with a rather poor attempt of making a cold brew, so since we had another opportunity to try it, we brewed ourselves a cup. The coffee was pretty smooth and had a nice amount of kick to it, being made from Robusta beans, which have a higher caffeine content compared to the Arabica beans found in most blends. Surprisingly, it was not bitter, which would have been characteristic of Robusta, so Sainsbury's must have adjusted the roasting process to compensate, which kind of shows the amount of detail they put into even Basics products.

The recipe for bacon jam that I used can be found at Not Quite Nigella through the link I have above, so I shall restrict my commentary to the tweaks and other little things I did while making this. For adaptability reasons I have substituted Basics vinegar and honey for cider vinegar and maple syrup respectively. I also added a dried chilli from a pack my flatmate bought in Chinatown to add an extra kick.

The packet of Basics cooking bacon will have to be fried in two stages. If you want to you can also trim the fat off some of the rashers to form a starter batch, which would be rendered of fat in the pan for easier frying of the main bacon batches.

If you do use the starter batch, have it at the side of the pan while frying the bacon so that they can continue to render and become nice and crispy in the process. It is a lot of effort to tease out the bacon rashers before chopping them up, but if you are not planning on using a food processor to grind up the resulting jam later on, you might want to consider doing this if you want a finer-textured jam.

1 hour later, it turns out that I had the heat on too low, so I decided not to add any water at all and crank up the heat to mid so that I can simmer the water away more quickly. Unfortunately, 2 hours from the time I started simmering,  I am nowhere near the nice dark colour that Not Quite Nigella managed to get.

On the 3rd hour however...

Satisfied with progress, I turned off the heat on the stove to let it cool slowly. After that, a brief spin in the food processor, and the bacon jam was ready to be spread on Sainsbury's Basics Baguette.

This was a resounding success. The bacon jam, effectively a pate, tastes great, if perhaps a little too sweet and oily, and will go well with anything that usually calls for bacon. Already I'm thinking of not just spreading this on my bread, but taking up the suggestions floating around on the Net and putting it into pastas, serving it with poached eggs, and perhaps even with asparagus, if it happens to be cheap. I might have to work out a way to not make it feel so oily, perhaps by leaving out some of the liquid from the cooking, or patting the bacon dry with kitchen towels before transferring to the pot. This recipe will nonetheless be a godsend to anybody in university who might love bacon, but want to have it cheaply, and without the fuss of carefully peeling apart randomly mashed rashers at 8.30 in the morning, half an hour before the first lecture of the day.

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