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Feature Sun Nov 08 2009
I'm not one to blindly follow trends -- and I do see a little truth in talk that the current bacon mania is a bit overblown. But I've come across a bacon product that rises above the hype. And it's one you can make yourself, just in time to impress your friends and family at the holidays.
My friends, I'm talking about bacon jam.
Imagine the flavor of bacon -- the smoky, salty savoriness of cured pig meat and fat -- concentrated into a rich condiment sweetened with onions garlic and a little sugar. Something you could spread over toast. Or a burger. Or simply eat with a spoon. If you're a fan of bacon, this is one of its highest forms, the ne plus ultra of bacon derived dishes.
I don't quite remember how I came across Not Quite Nigella's recipe, but it immediately caught my attention. Turns out, it's a variation on a version of a condiment Seattle "mobile street food diner" Skillet puts on its burgers instead of plain old slices. I happened to have a slab of unsliced Hungarian style bacon sitting in the fridge at home, so I decided I'd try my hand at making a batch when I got home that night.
Unfortunately, my slab of bacon turned out to fall short of the pound needed for the recipe -- but I did have a tube of Mexican chorizo in the fridge. I figured the spicy chorizo would compliment the flavor of the bacon and allow me to skip the Tabasco sauce called for in the recipe I found. I think it's an excellent addition to the dish. So, here's my version of bacon jam.
3/4 pound of smoked bacon (I used an extra smoky Hungarian bacon)
1/4 pound Mexican-style pork chorizo (I used Supremo, a Chicago brand)
4 cloves garlic, chopped or run through a garlic press
1 medium onion, diced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup coffee
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
Black pepper to taste
cast iron skillet or non-stick pan
heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (preferably cast iron, such as Le Creuset)
1-tablespoon measuring spoon
In a cast iron skillet or non-stick pan, fry the bacon in batches until lightly browned and just beginning to crisp. Remove the bacon from the skillet, drain and cut into 1 inch pieces. Reserve the bacon fat and set aside. Crumble the chorizo into the pan and fry it to similar doneness, then remove it from the pan and drain most the grease (preferably not into the same container the bacon fat*). Add a little of the reserved bacon fat to the skillet and fry the onion and garlic on medium heat until translucent but not quite caramelized. Transfer the bacon, onion and garlic into a preheated heavy-bottomed pot, then add all the other ingredients except for the water. Set the heat to low or simmer, stir well and let it all simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking and adding a quarter cup of water every 30 minutes or so if the mixture begins to look dry.
After two hours of simmering, your jam should look about like this:
Move the pot off the heat and let the mixture cool for 15 or 20 minutes, then put the solids and most of the liquid into a food processor. (You may want to leave some more fat behind if it seems like you have too much. Then again, don't drain all all the fat, or your jam will be too crumbly.) Pulse for a couple seconds once or twice to achieve more of a jam-like consistency. Don't overdo it in the food processor or you'll end up with paste. Pour the jam into a pint jar -- yes, more than a pound of ingredients now fits into a measly pint jar -- screw on the lid and throw in the fridge to chill.
Bacon jam is relatively similar in process to pork rillettes and confit: you're basically cooking the meat in its own fat, and the fat serves to preserve the meat. With bacon jam, though, you're adding a number of ingredients that aren't in a traditional rillette or confit -- which makes it more like a potted meat, a typically homemade mixture of meat scraps, herbs and spices, as well as an acid to act as a preservative. The fact that bacon jam has multiple preservatives -- fat, vinegar, sugar and even the coffee -- means your jam will keep in the fridge for about a month. But you probably won't let it last that long.
And about that coffee. You're probably wondering why it's there, right? Well for one thing, it's a much more flavorful liquid than water, so it brings more to the party as the bacon fat continues to render and everything in the pot caramelizes. The coffee flavor also adds an earth note to the jam, complementing the smokiness of the bacon and cutting the sweetness of the maple syrup and onions. You won't taste it much in the final product, but trust me, you'd notice if it wasn't there.
*Bacon fat is a wonderful, although not terribly heart healthy, cooking ingredient. You can use it to fry eggs, as the oil in a vinaigrette (particularly good over spinach salad), or for sautéing vegetables or other meat. Put it in a sealed jar in the fridge and it'll stay good for months.