Nature gives us changing circumstances but some lead me, almost inevitably, to cook. This weekend it was the arrival of hurricane Irene causing bacon jam. Hurricanes don’t literally create bacon jam, as it doesn’t fall from the sky, but hurricanes do focus the mind on indoor cooking opportunities and bacon was on my mind. Take liberties in following my recipe for making bacon jam.
In the summer, I go to the the Arlington Farmer’s Market on Wednesday and on Friday mornings to Russo’s in Watertown (www.russos.com). Russo’s is a favorite spot of mine for high quality produce and cheese. It has a variety that spans the continents. No doubt the broad food selection is inspired by its proximity to a mix of older Italian and newer Asian and Latino immigrants in the Watertown, Newton, and Waltham region. You will hear lots of folks speaking languages other than English standing next to fashionably dressed women from Newton. Russo’s is not the same as Wilson’s in Lexington with its nearly uniformly upscale clientele (no slur on Wilson’s as I like the place and especially its proximity to my home but the crowd is very different and the selection both smaller and more expensive than Russo’s).
Russo’s is also just around the corner from a BJ’s Club. Yes, I know it is terribly déclassé to shop at a big box store but I do it, especially when I am buying lots of paper goods like towels and t.p. So Friday I did a double hit and bought an especially large amount of provisions at both locations (reminder: don’t shop when you are hungry!), including a few pounds of bacon. I even bought the hardcover edition of Mark Bittman’s updated book How to Cook Everything, a seminal work in American food writing. His Sunday NYTimes magazine cooking column is always great but his new position on the op-ed page of the Times gives him the latitude to explore the food and agriculture industries brilliantly. The book is an extension of his clear and concise writing about great food made simply. It is inspiring.
Hurricane Irene arrived last night and her winds convinced me not to slow smoke the beef brisket that I had brined overnight. It will keep until tomorrow, but working in the garden is not possible, so my stove and the bacon called for my attention. I have frequently heard of bacon jam and as a confirmed fan of bacon, I knew I needed to try some. The folks at Skillet Street Food in Seattle make some popular jam that has a very good reputation http://skilletstreetfood.com/shop.php
but today was my day to take a stab at making it. A pan of it now sits on the stove in its final stage of cooking. I looked at NotQuiteNigella, an Australian food blogger I enjoy, for her recipe
and took it as a guide but as I tell everyone, play with your food. My recipe is quite different from hers, more aromatic and less sweet I think.
Making jam is an indoor activity well suited to bad weather. Well suited, that is, unless you are hungry, in which case not all of the bacon makes it into the jam. Cooks always retain the right to eat food as it comes out of a pan and before it is plated.
This recipe is not a sweet bacon jam. Add more brown sugar or maple syrup if you want it sweeter. Add spicier pepper flavors like Tabasco if you want heat. You might want to try NQN’s version first, especially as mine has a few odd ingredients. As with all foods, taste it as you cook and add ingredients as your mouth instructs.
(Here is some technical stuff that matters only to the die-hard cook, a note on what I call “smoking water.” You need to add liquid to the bacon as it cooks during the second round. Water won’t add flavor but won’t hurt the flavor, just keep the jam moist. Any kind of unsalted stock, vegetable or meat, will be better. I would be wary of red wine but beer might work. Cider or fruit juices will make the jam sweeter. The “smoking water” I used is a vegetable broth in which I smoke a pork roast for three hours and is intensely smoky. I love the flavor of smoke and save this broth from week-to-week because of the flavor it imparts to everything from beans to rice to meats. If you love smoke like I do, you might try Liquid Smoke, but I have never used it and cannot advise further.)
1 lb of bacon
½ lb of sweet onion (Vidalia-type)
¼ lb of fennel
8 ozs of “smoking water” (you can substitute anything from water to juice to stock)
2 ozs of malt vinegar
2 ozs of maple syrup
2 ozs of brown rum (Mt. Gay, Cruzan, or similar)
¼ cup of brown sugar
A few dashes of Worcestshire, PickAPepper, or other aromatic (I used Salsa Lizano from Costa Rica)
½ teaspoon of allspice
In a non-stick pan or cast iron skillet, cook, drain and dice the bacon. Save a little of the bacon fat and
Sautee the onion and fennel over low heat.
Return the bacon to the pan.
Add all remaining ingredients.
Cook for an hour.
Put the bacon mix in a food processor and use the pulse button to reduce it to a consistency you like. Keep it coarse and serve it on toast, eggs, a steak, roast, or burger. It is great on a crisp slice of apple. Or puree it to the consistency of ketchup and splash it on anything.