Everything tastes better with bacon. One of those flavor-packed, umami-rich, secret-weapon ingredients, it has the power to elevate just about any dish, from soups to soufflés, braises to bread pudding.
Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama know just how to employ it. Peter is the author of both Pig Perfect—a paean to the noble swine—and, most recently, Culinary Intelligence, which argues that the healthiest way to eat is to eat less but really well. He and Marie know that adding irresistible bacon transforms an ordinary dish into an extraordinary one.
Bacon Nation is a bacon-lover’s dream, a collection of 125 smoky, savory, crispy, meaty, salty, and sweetly sensuous recipes that go right through the menu. Starters like Spiced Nuts with Bacon; Bacon and Butternut Squash Galette; Bacon, Pear, and Humboldt Fog Salad. Main courses featuring meats—Brawny Bacon Beef Bourguignon, Saltimbacon; poultry—Paella with Chicken and Bacon; fish—Flaky Cod Fillets with Bacon and Wine-Braised Fennel; and pasta, including an update of the classic Roman dish Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Even dessert: Rum Ice Cream with Candied Bacon Chips and Chocolate-Peanut-Bacon Toffee. Or, as Homer Simpson would say, Mmmm, bacon.
What makes Bacon Nation different from other cookbooks?
Peter and I are both good home cooks, always looking for ingredients and techniques that help us improve a dish. Bacon Nation explores and celebrates the multiple and intense elements of bacon: salt, smoke, meatiness, sweetness, umami, and fat. We tried to release these flavors into classic dishes, to make, for example, a better risotto or tomato sauce, or to make something very different, such as our Bacon-Peanut Chocolate Toffee or our Bacon Jam.
Why will customers want to buy Bacon Nation if they're watching their weight?
Good question. We found that other bacon cookbooks and many recipes on the web take delight in combining huge amounts of bacon and cheese. We wanted to create a cookbook that showed that bacon and healthful cooking are not contradictory concepts. Using reasonable amounts of bacon, bacon fat, and olive oil in conjunction with other low-calorie, vitamin and protein-rich ingredients can be useful for dieters. Peter coined the term "flavor per calorie, " or FPC in his book Culinary Intelligence; a little bacon elevates and intensifies the flavors in a stew, soup, salad dressing, sauce, and so on. You enjoy the dish more and desire less food because you are more satisfied. A strip of bacon is less than 50% saturated fat and much of it is cooked off before the bacon is added as a seasoning ingredient.
What are some of your favorite recipes in the Bacon Nation?
That's a tough question for me because so many of these dishes feel like they are my favorites. In fact, we tested more than 150 dishes and tossed out recipes that didn't pass our taste test. I really like the Halibut Poached in Bacon with Baby Spinach and Creamer Potatoes because we make an elegant bacon broth in which to poach and flavor the fish and spinach. I love the Linguine with Cauliflower and Bacon Bread Crumbs where a mixture of sautéed cauliflower, cooked bacon, toasted bread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese lends crunch and sharpness to linguine. The Bacon and Butternut Squash Galette makes an elegant party appetizer, and the Chocolate Peanut Bacon Toffee uses caramelized sugar to bind these three irresistible ingredients into what is for me the perfect candy.
Are there dishes in Bacon Nation appropriate to bring to a dinner party or pot luck supper?
That's easy. The Spiced Nuts with Bacon travel well and can be enjoyed throughout the party. The Curried Broccoli Salad with Bacon is perfect for an outdoor barbecue. The Bacon Brisket and Beer Chili is easily transported and reheated at your host's house. The Grilled Tomatoes Stuffed with Bacon, Basil and Blue Cheese can be finished on the grill at a friend's house. Many of the chicken dinner dishes can be prepared ahead, and then reheated on the stovetop before serving. The recipe for Bacon Jam, one of my very favorites in the book, makes a great gift to serve with assorted cheeses.
Do you have any advice when shopping for bacon?
Many people have the impression that all bacon is the same; it's not. We tested over 35 different types of bacon and recommend some of our favorites. When buying bacon, consider whether it was produced with free-range pork, whether it's cured or uncured, thick or regular sliced, smoked with a particular type of wood, sugar or seasoning. Our advice is to shop where you can find different brands to try. Many of the artisanal bacon producers are so small that you won't even find them in specialty markets; look online for these products. In the end, bacon produced with the best ingredients and the best pork, though it might cost you a little more, will reward your taste buds.
What are some of the most interesting ways bacon is used in Bacon Nation?
We discovered, for example, bacon boosts the flavor of store-bought chicken broth to make a better base for soups, sauces, and poaching fish. Bacon drippings add richness and moisture to many quick breads and muffins in the book. One of our recipes is a Bacon Swizzle Stick for stirring a Bloody Mary, which I've not seen anywhere else. We discovered that bacon is compatible with a number of herbs and spices; our Curried-Candied Bacon Slices make great finger-food for a cocktail party. When you bring them out, it makes for a good conversation starter!
Can you explain a couple of basic techniques that make cooking with bacon easy and enjoyable?
If you're cooking more slices of bacon than you can fit in a large skillet, lay the slices on the rack of a large roasting pan and bake them in a 400 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. The slices crisp nicely, remain flat, and you don't need to monitor them. If you're cooking 3 to 4 slices, use a cast-iron skillet and start them in a cold pan. Cook over medium heat and the important thing is to monitor the heat to keep the bacon sizzling without cooking so fast that it burns. Turn the slices over a few times so they brown evenly. Depending on variables like the bacon's thickness, number of slices in the pan, and how well you like it cooked, it should take 7 to 10 minutes. A splatter screen is a great tool to help keep the rendering fat in the pan and off your stove top.