It's a Tough Job - All Bacon is Good
First of all, let’s get one thing straight. The best bacon in the world comes from a pig. The USDA agrees on this point as it delineates bacon, somewhat unpalatably, as "the cured belly of a swine carcass." For these reasons, there will be no discussion nor consideration of turkey, deer, squirrel or, heaven forbid, soy bacon. Still, despite being limited to a single, wonderful animal, there is an amazing variety in tastes and textures associated with bacons from around the world
While, bacon is not always prepared from the same cut of meat, they all share the process of curing where the meat is dry salted or left in brine for an extended period of time. After curing the “fresh” bacon is then sold as is or further smoked, boiled or air-dried to provide the distinctive flavors and textures of its particular region.
“Bacon makes everything taste better” has been an American aphorism since before the founding of the United States. Colonial satirists and English snobs complained that all American food was ‘besotted” with the flavor of bacon. If anything, the love affair between American cooks and their bacon has only deepened. Today, “bacon mania” has delivered everything from the baconnaise to chocolate covered bacon.
Bacon in the United States typically comes from the belly of the pig and, due to the streaks of fat in the meat, is known as streaky bacon in the rest of the world. While bacon is usually eaten by itself as a breakfast meal, it can be found as a condiment in meals from every region of the country. To quote the noted gourmand, Homer Simpson, “Mmm … bacon.”
The bacon from Canada is made from the pork loin that rest along the back of the pig, hence its name in the United States, back bacon. It is a much leaner that the American variety, has a meatier consistency and a distinctly different taste. Cornmeal or pea meal bacon is a particularly Canadian invention and involves coating back bacon in cornmeal and frying it. The result is used to make a magnificent sandwich and is a “must have” if you ever visit Toronto.
Credit: Miss AyumiKnown as middle bacon, the bacon from Ireland combines the best from both the American and Canadian varieties. While middle bacon still comes from the belly of the pig and thus contains the streaky bacon familiar to Americans, it also has a lean portion similar to the back bacon found in Canada. Usually cut a little thicker than American bacon, Irish bacon is also typically not cooked as thoroughly as American bacon. It is uncommonly good as a breakfast meat.
The most common type of Italian bacon is pancetta, a cured, spiced and air dried meat made from the belly of the pig. There are as many varieties of pancetta as there are Italians but all spectacular in texture and taste. Pancetta is often thinly sliced and eaten with a drizzle of olive oil or placed on a pizza. It is more famous, however, as an addition to any of Italy’s famous sauces such as carbonara and marinara. Guanciale is another bacon from Italy made from the pig’s jowl and is often substituted for pancetta in the mother country.
Do not confuse the French use of lardons as their equivalent of bacon. Lardons is, indeed, wonderful in a variety of French dishes but the French also make an excellent bacon, ventrenche. While the French are noted for the use o complicated techniques and obscure ingredients, their bacon is a refreshingly simple one. Ventranche only lightly cured with some pepper added and then either air dried as is or smoked. While ventrenche is remarkably easy to make, the realkey is to start with an excellent pork belly from a local farm and not a processed one available in the average supermarket..
No one knows when the first pig was butchered and cured to produce the first bacon but with almost 4 millennia of practice, the Chinese produce an awesome bacon. First, they usually leave a little of the skin on the meat which reinforces the pork flavor, Next, they complimet the taste with traditional Chinese spices such as cinnamon, star anise and clove. Lastly, the meat is given a beautiful smoky flavor. Chinese bacons are alternately intensely smoky or intensely sweet. They can be used as a substitute in a variety of Western dishes and are not soon forgot by the bacon lover.
Ever the dedicated researchers, the Japanese have discovered a scientific basis for the popularity and deliciousness of bacon. Their research has demonstrated that the human tongue has specific receptors for the chemical compound, L-glutamate. The Japanese labeled this taste, umami and added it to the other four basic ones: salt, sweet, bitter and salty. In short, people have taste buds specifically designed to taste bacon. Japanese bacon is unlike most Western bacons but is still used for a variety of purposes. Also, don’t miss the latest Chinese twist, lacquered bacon. Thick cut bacon, covered in brown sugar and then baked. Homer doesn’t know what he’s missing.
An Uncommonly Special Pig Joke
Few things can come between a man and his bacon as indicated by this short story.
A farmer walks into a bar carrying a three legged pig. He sits down and sets the pig down on the seat next to him. The bartender gives him an odd look but serves him when farmer orders a screwdruiver for himself and a gin and tonic for the pig.
After several rounds, the bartender's interest gets the better of him and he finally asks the farmer,
“Why are you buying that three-legged pig all those drinks?”
The farmer looks at the barman and relates an incredible tale.
"One night," he says, " While my family was asleep, there was a terrible fire in the my house. This pig pulled me, my wife and my three children out of that burning house and saved our lives! This is an uncommonly special pig”
“Aaah,” said the barman, “And that’s where the poor pig lost his leg?”
“Don’t be a fool,” responded the farmer, “He got out in one piece but a pig this uncommonly special, you don’t eat all at once.”