Modern bacon is generally extremely disappointing. “Standard” bacon is pumped full of salt water during the curing process. This reduces the curing time, and stops mass from being lost, which means that shops make more money from the same haunch. However, as soon as you cook it, the muscle fibres in the meat contract and squeeze out a flood of water and yucky white foam. Very disappointing.
Most butchers, and some supermarkets, will be able to sell you “dry cured” bacon. In theory, this is bacon cured the old-fashioned way, by covering it in salt and allowing osmosis to take its natural course. No water is added. In practice, the label “dry cured” means different things to different people, and the quality of such bacons varies greatly between brands and shops. (Safeway’s dry cured bacon, for example, only produces marginally less foamy liquid than their standard variety.)
And then there’s the “extra lean” bacon. Bacon without all the fat, rind, and, er, flavour. Folks, if you’re considering low-fat bacon, do yourself a favour and don’t buy it at all. Have a banana instead.
Here at Chez Martin, we have just adopted a new bacon policy: henceforth, we will only be buying absolutely the cheapest bacon we can find in our local supermarket’s meat department.
Why? Well, if we’re going to put up with water-cured bacon, we might as well pay as little as possible for it. A 300g pack of super-cheap-ultra-value bacon costs about a pound. A comparable pack of “branded” bacon will set you back two or three. Secondly, cheaper bacon is fattier bacon. Guess where bacon’s flavour comes from? It’s the fat. Fatty bacon just tastes better.
I think it was at World Science Fiction Convention in 1995 (Intersection) that I attended a talk where Joe Haldeman explained his technique for cooking perfect bacon: cook it in the nude. He reasoned that standing naked over a hit stove forces you to cook the bacon slowly, over a low heat, so that it doesn’t spit and spatter all over the place, speckling your delicate milky flesh with gobbets of hot grease.
I have tried this. It does work, provided that you get top-quality bacon that is really dry-cured, rather than just “dry-cured™”. If you use cheap, fatty bacon, however, you need to modify the technique slightly. First of all, toss it in a frying pan and give it a good hard blast on a very high heat. This makes the meat contract very quickly, expelling most of the stored-up water right up front. Pour off this water. (Don’t wait for it to cook and bubble away–you’ll just boil the bacon.) Then, you can either continue to fry, grill, or oven-bake the bacon as you would normally.
I prefer to fry it on a low heat (à la Haldeman). With most of the water out of the way, it cooks like higher-quality bacon. And because it’s cheap and fatty, it contains plenty of oils to make it as dark and crispy as you choose. Mmmm, bacon.