Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pantry Staples: Bacon

I've kind of gotten away from from my pantry staples entries, but not because I'm not thinking about it. I actually think about it all the time. My issue is this: what can I write about in my cabinets that you, the reader, want to hear about.
So it's a fine line between singling out what is actually interesting and highlighting the mundane. What's more, it's my pantry, so nothing in there seems out of the ordinary to me.
The benefit of me constantly staring into my pantry is that it has led me to learn a little bit more about what's in there. And to a analyze a little further what's always on hand.
That brings us to what's ALWAYS on hand, bacon.
As we all know it's great to crunch into a crispy piece, but bacon's versatility never ceases to amaze me. It brings three essential traits to a dish: smokiness, salt, and pork fat. Three traits that go well with almost everything . (I feel obligated to include the word "almost" here, but I can't actually think of anything off hand that wouldn't benefit from some bacon)
I usually go for the thicker cut stuff, I prefer more substantial pieces. I look for a good balance of muscle tissue to fat (see pic). A lot of meat in bacon looks appealing, but it is the fat that carries the bulk of the bacon flavor, and so the fat that passes it on. For this reason I always reserve the fat, it makes great sauteed veggies, and is the perfect fat for tender buttermilk biscuits.
Also, you might have noticed the word "uncured" popping up on packages in the meat section. This is because responsible meat processors (unofficially starting with niman ranch) have ceased to use sodium nitrates, a known carcinogen. Since the USDA requires that anything that is labeled "cured" use sodium nitrates, products not using them must be labeled "uncured". However, rest assured they're certainly cured, in layman's terms anyways, and very delicious.
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