Food & Drink

Cookbook is the new authority on bacon

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

Except for vegetarians and those who do not eat pork for religious reasons, I do not think I know anyone who does not love bacon. Northerners and Southerners share this love of meat made from pork belly, but in Bacon, a part of UNC’s Savor the South series. Fred Thompson explains just how bacon is southern, a part of the region’s overall romance with pork (can anyone say BBQ?). He describes the cultural context of what are iconic Southern foods and raises the standards for that food by imparting a number of traditional and new recipes for that food stuff. I have reviewed ten of these books in the past and find that Fred Thompson’s Bacon is not only a worthy addition to the series, but also a book I would like to own and will gift to other bacon lovers.

Before reading this book, if you asked me, I might name varieties of bacon as fresh bacon, flavored bacon, bacon preserved with nitrates (most of what is in a package in stores). Of course there is also Canadian bacon, and pancetta and guanciale, two Italian bacon variants mostly used for flavoring in recipes. Thompson, however, identifies more than fifty types of bacon. He also explains and demystifies the glories of bacon by including a recipe for making bacon at home from pork belly in five different styles His recipes reveal that southern touch, a sort of Midas touch with bacon. Dishes range from southern regional to international, from appetizers to main courses, and even to a very southern beverage. I am particularly intrigued by his recipe for a “jam” made in a slow cooker.

The recipe makes a large amount. I reached out to Thompson to ask if the recipe could be cut back but he advised not doing that. He replied, “I would prefer the recipe stay as is.. It keeps for weeks and freezes beautifully Great for Hostess gifts.” I’ve had bacon jam as an accompaniment to several dishes in local restaurants, but thought it must be too hard to make. Thompson’s recipe gives me hope—especially since I can freeze it. I can think of any number of plain chicken and fish dishes that would be enlivened by a side of this “jam” and I think it would also work well in stuffed mushrooms or even plain on crackers as an appetizer. He also describes in detail, several ways to cook bacon. I had moved from pan frying to microwave, but he makes an excellent case for baking bacon in the oven on a parchment-lined baking pan.

Thompson knows his food and his Southern food pedigree is impeccable. He writes the Weekend Gourmet column for the Raleigh News and Observe, is the author of twelve other cookbooks, including Southern Sides and Barbecue Nation and edits Edible Piedmont magazine.

The front part of the book is just as much fun to read as the recipes. For instance, he explains the origin of the phrase, “eating high on the hog.”

Thompson says, “It has a real purpose other than describing someone’s apparent wealth. For decades, at slaughter, the parts higher on the hog, like the loin, tenderloin, and ribs, had a much higher dollar value than the bellies, shoulders, and hams, and that is somewhat still the case today.”

Yes, “everything you ever wanted to know about bacon and recipes to use that knowledge wisely and deliciously” could be the subtitle of this book. It’s another great entry in University of North Carolina Press’ formidable series.

At A Glance

Title | Bacon, A Savor the South cookbook

Author | Fred Thompson

Publisher | University of North Carolina Press

Cost | $19.00

Slow Cooker Bacon Jam

Reprinted from Bacon by Fred Thompson with permission of The University of North Carolina Press.

Makes at least 3 cups

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds thick cut apple wood or cherry wood-smoked bacon

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife

½ c apple cider vinegar

½ c firmly packed dark brown sugar

¼ c pure Grade B maple syrup

¾ c brewed dark coffee

Method

Slice bacon into one-inch pieces. Put them in a large (at least 12 inch) skillet or sauté pan. Place the pan over medium heat and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is lightly browned, about 25-35 minutes. Stir the bacon occasionally.

Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon. And place it in the slow cooker container. Drain off all but about a tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. Place the pan back over the heat and add the onions. Cook them until they are "lazy" and translucent about six minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute or two until it is fragrant. Add the vinegar, brown sugar, syrup, and coffee. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, scraping any brown bits from the skillet. This should take about two minutes. Then pour the liquid into the slow cooker. Set the slow cooker for high and cook uncovered until the mixture is syrupy, usually about three and one have to four hours. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Remove to an airtight container and let cool. Refrigerate for up to four weeks.

(and as noted in the article, the "jam" can also be frozen)

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