“Bacon Nation” costs less than a couple of paperback novels, and will bring you much more use and reading pleasure. A must-have for all bacon lovers, this cookbook will appeal to everyone, from novice home cooks to gourmet chefs, and everyone in between. I was lucky enough to get an inside scoop from co-author Marie Rama, who answers our “meaty” queries on All Things Bacon and offers some tips and recipe ideas that aren’t in the book.
BT: What are your thoughts on the bacon trend? Here to stay, or gone tomorrow?
Marie Rama: Here to stay for sure. We started talking about a bacon cookbook more than 3 years ago, and the passion for bacon has only grown since then. Cooking with bacon, as we do in our book, using it judiciously as a seasoning ingredient to make every day and special occasion dishes taste better, is not a trend. In fact, we feel our book establishes a new bar for using bacon in this way. Also, there are more farmers making their individual types of artisanal bacons than ever before because the demand for excellent bacon is growing, not declining.
BT: What is your favorite recipe in the cookbook and why?
Marie Rama: I have so many, it’s hard to choose one, but I really love the Chocolate-Peanut-Bacon-Toffee. I imagine hikers eating it as a high-energy snack, kids taking it off to school in their lunch bags, moms treating themselves to a piece (as I do) at the end of a long day. Made without any flour, it’s gluten free and the intensity of each ingredient—dark chocolate, peanuts and bacon—comes out in every bite. It’s an easy candy to make; all one needs is a candy thermometer; and it freezes up well in a covered container. Everybody I’ve ever served it to loves it like me.
BT: Got any tips or recipe ideas for our readers that aren’t in the cookbook?
Marie Rama: It’s funny how the ideas for recipes just keep coming. For example, I wrapped a chicken breast half in bacon and stuffed it lightly with cream cheese and herbs. Really good. The recipe is not in the book, but on my blog: www.therewillbebacon.tumblr.com. Since the book I’ve made turkey burgers with bacon which adds moisture to the turkey patty, which can be quite lean and dry. This recipe is also on my blog and not in the book. I see things on the Internet and say: wow that’s cool and creative. Why didn’t I think of that? Like lining your muffin tins with bacon, then baking the bacon in the tins, then adding an egg and baking the egg in the bacon lined-muffin tin. Very pretty way to serve bacon and eggs!
BT: Although the book mentions flavored bacon, the recipes in this book call for basic applewood or hickory smoked bacon. Do you have a favorite flavored bacon, and how would you use it?
Marie Rama: I like a balance to my bacon. Jones Dairy Farm makes thick-cut cherrywood smoked bacon with a real balance of sweetness, smokiness and saltiness. Benton’s bacon is wonderful for its intensely smoky flavor. You can smell the smoke as soon as you open the package. But for the most part, I don’t like a bacon that’s too souped up with spices. Smoke is fine, but I like to add my own seasoning and retain control of the taste of the dish. I also like a bacon that has a good proportion of meat to fat. So, I’ll check the window on the back of the box to be sure I’m getting at least a 50-50 ratio.
BT: The cookbook advises readers to “Buy the best bacon. It makes a difference.” Explain to our readers why using quality bacon matters.
Marie Rama: Well, there are large manufacturers that add water to their bacon and you pay for the addition of that water. Have you ever bought inexpensive bacon and found that there was a lot of liquid in the pan and it took a very long time to brown the strips or chopped up pieces in a skillet? That’s because water is releasing out of the meat and into the pan.
Also, some producers, to cut costs, use artificial liquid smoke, rather than hard wood to smoke their bacon and it tastes artificial. It’s not easy to make good bacon; I’ve tried it a couple of times and gave up because it ended up too salty or not smoky enough. So, having attempted the process without much luck, I’m willing to pay more for really good bacon.
Not all bacons are the same. My advice is to try different kinds of bacon, some from large producers, others from small ones, and judge for yourself. It’s really fun to find small local producers in your area who are raising their own pigs and smoking their own bacon.
BT: We love the unusual cooking techniques in this book, like the recipe for poaching fish in bacon-flavored broth. How did you come up with some of these new techniques? Were they planned experiments or accidental discoveries?
Marie Rama: I was constantly researching to find recipes and ideas that really interested me and then took an idea and experimented and honed it in the kitchen over time. The bacon-flavored broth is one of my favorite ideas. Thanks for picking up on it! I wanted to find a way to make lackluster tasting chicken, fish, and beef broths taste better, and I imagined that a few strips of bacon added to these commercial broths would do that. The idea led me to the recipe for the dish that poaches fish, spinach and potatoes in a bacon broth.
I’m convinced, between you and me, that one day somebody will make a commercial bacon broth for home cooks that has that special creamy smokiness you get from adding bacon to chicken or fish stock. I think whenever you live with a project, as I did, for more than two years, and if you work on that project almost every day, you can’t help but have a series of good discoveries.