Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bacon

Maybe it started over a decade ago when Emeril coined the slogan "Pork Fat Rules." I blame Atkins for making what was once a low class, unhealthy, off limits, greasy diner staple suddenly a "health food." It's true that bacon is low-carb, but I've never been able to imagine it as remotely good for me. Regardless of its effect on our waistlines and arteries, bacon is huge right now. Bacon is hip, trendy and a little edgy. They're serving it at all the fanciest restaurants, flavoring everything from mayonaise to lip balm (I kid you not) with it and all the ironic hipster bloggers have gotten in on the action, weaving bacon slices into mats. I've even seen a bra made from bacon. People are just crazy over bacon. Prime 112, one of Miami's hottest steakhouses, even provides glasses filled with bacon strips for bar snacks and of course everyone goes nuts for it. Something about the presentation reminds me of dog treats.

Frankly, I'm a little over bacon. I don't think it's that great. I don't dislike it and it certainly has its uses, but bacon is ultimately bad for you (unless it's in lip balm form). Aside from the fat and salt, commercial bacons are filled with preservatives and nitrites. Bacon is a highly processed food. Of course it didn't start out that way. I remember mouth watering descriptions of home-smoked bacon in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that I read as a child. It always sounded so good. I could practically hear it popping in Ma's cast iron skillet. But the bacon you find in the grocery store now barely resembles the bacon the pioneers relied upon to get them through wagon trains and long winters.

I always wanted to try homemade bacon. This past week I finally got my chance when I found a local source at Emil's Sausage in Deerfield Beach.

Emil's used to be located in Pompano and I had driven by it a million times without ever stopping. I confess that I'm not a gigantic sausage fan. Being squeamish about most meat, I don't want to eat anything I can't immediately identify. You can slip any number of horrifying things into a sausage and let's not even discuss the whole issue of casing. As a child I would meticulously peel my hot dogs until someone told me what was in them and I stopped eating them altogether.

But bacon is bacon. It's straightforward. There's no livers or snouts in it, so when I heard that Emil's smokes and cures their own, I made the trip up to Deerfield to check it out.

Emil's is an authentic German deli, owned by German people. When I was there not a single patron came in who didn't speak German. I felt like I was in Germany, though I have to admit the closest I've ever come to Germany is Oktoberfest at EPCOT, so I'm not exactly an authority here. My grandparents lived in Hannover for years, but I was never able to visit them there. My other grandfather, who was in the military, often traveled to Ramstein and brought back Gummi Bears and cuckoo clocks. But I digress. Emil's is very German. The shelves are stocked with products that would be local if we were in Munich, including all sorts of interesting condiments, candies, crackers and even magazines. I was particularly intrigued by an apparent curry flavored ketchup, but I didn't buy it because it was pretty much anti-local.

I directed my attention to the products that were local - the meats. Emil's makes everything in house, from bologna to smoked liverwurst to bratwurst to Black Forest Ham. There were at least twenty different types of wursts and on top of that they also make their own sauerkrauts and potato salads. The next time I go I'm going to get some sauerkraut. I've heard it practically performs miracles due to its high probiotic content, which can't be found in the kind they sell from huge cans at hot dog stands. I was there for the bacon though.

The bacon comes in blocks. I liked this because for some recipes bacon is better diced into thick cubes. This way, you have the option of cutting it however you'd like. Emil's offers regular and double smoked. I figured if I was going to go for it, I'd try the double smoked. My theory is that the more intensely flavored the food, the less one needs to eat of it. Therefore, with something as bad for you as salty, smoky pig fat, you want the most intensely flavored variety you can get. I also opted to let them slice it for me and then, amazed at how inexpensive it was, took my bacon home to wait for breakfast.

I like to bake bacon in the oven. Normally I spread the slices on a rimmed sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees until it reaches my desired crispiness. Sometimes I get crazy and glaze it with local honey and sprinkle it with cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne. I highly recommend this, but this time I just wanted to sample my homemade bacon plain.

I found that the homemade bacon cooked a lot faster than commercial varieties. I almost burned it, and the slices were the same thickness as I was used to. It also curled more, contained far less grease and rendered out to a pleasant, shattery consistency. For fans of very crisp bacon, Emil's is perfect for you. It was also far more strongly flavored than your average grocery store brands. You'll definitely need less.

For me, bacon is a rare treat. It should be used sparingly and for special occasions. Since I eat so little of it, I'll be heading up to Deerfield whenever I want bacon because this product is cheaper, has more flavor, is more versatile and has more integrity than mass produced brands. Local bacon, who would have thought?

And remember, bacon is definitely not just for breakfast. Some other things you can do with it are: wrapping some local Key West pink shrimp with bacon and then grilling it, using the bacon to flavor pots of greens or beans, making bacon bits for salads and dressing up sandwiches.

1 comment:

  1. Victoria, your blog is so INTERESTING! I love it! How did you learn so much about food?

    ReplyDelete