Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bacon Fest '09

On February 21, 2009 a festival to end all festivals will be held in Los Angeles. If all goes well, it will become an annual occurrence. I am talking about Bacon Fest '09.

Now, don't book your tickets to L.A. just yet. For one, Bacon Fest is very exclusive (and you can't get in). For another, Bacon Fest is less like a festival and more like a dinner I'm preparing for a few friends. (But seriously, what looks better on a t-shirt: "Dinner at my house" or "BACON FEST '09?")

It all started with a harmless email sent from a fellow bacon lover to a small group of other bacon lovers. The email was sent to praise the ingeniousness of a new invention called Baconaise. A bacon flavored mayo that this dear blogger has yet to try.

Who would've ever guessed that this simple email would have started an exchange of fried pork anecdotes that would last for months? While light and airy at first, the emailers (heretofore known as the Bacon 5, or B5 for short) began to take on a demanding tone. You see, it was just too much to talk about the tasty meat day in and day out; the B5 wanted to be fed bacon. And lots of it. That is when the B5 demanded yours truly prepare a bacon tasting menu.

I have been working on this menu for the last several weeks and have discovered gazillions of bacon recipes. I have found battered deep-fried bacon, bacon bowls, bacon wrapped pork, pig candy, bacon cupcakes, sausage rolled into a bacon like burrito and many more. All of them appear exquisite, but alas I can only make so many. That is where I need your help, dear bloggies. I need help whittling down my choices. Do you have a favorite bacon recipe? You wanna share it? Leave a comment and tell me more! I'll even exchange ideas with you. If you give me enough good ideas then you, yes you, will receive a hard to come by invite to Bacon Fest '09! After the fest, all recipes will be posted here (and yes, with credit given where credit is due).

Until then, I will leave you with a recipe for making your very own bacon.


2.5 lb of pork belly, with skin on
2.5 tbl kosher salt (oh, the irony)
1.5 tbl sugar
1 tbl black peppercorns
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic

(Quite frankly, along with the salt you can use about anything you want for the rub).

Rinse pork and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Grind spices and garlic and rub all over both sides of meat. Seal meat in a 1 gallon size resealable plastic bag and place in refrigerator for 7 days. Flip the mat over every other day. After 7 days, remove the meat from the bag and wash thoroughly in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Place meat on a sheet tray and cook until the center of the meat reads 150 degrees on a thermometer, about 2 hours. Transfer bacon to a work surface and slice off the skin and allow to cool to room temperature. Pat dry, wrap bacon in wax paper and refrigerate until chilled through. The bacon is now ready to be sliced and fried. Bacon will hold for about 10 days in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer.

Stuff It

Sometimes words simply mess things up.

Southern Stuffing

1 1-pound loaf crusty country-style white bread
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced

6 Tbl (3/4 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 lb. peeled shrimp, chopped in half or thirds, depending on the size
1/2 lb. sliced bacon, chopped
1 lb. collard greens, coarsely torn
1 3/4 cups low-salt chicken broth, divided
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Cut bread into 1” cubes. Toss with olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and spread on a sheet tray. Bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Stir at midway point. Put cooked bread in a large bowl.

Over med-high heat, melt butter and sauté onion, celery and red pepper until soft, about 10 min. Add shrimp and sauté until just pink. Transfer to a bowl. Sauté bacon until crisp. Transfer bacon to bowl with vegetables. Pour off all but 1 tbl fat from skillet. Add greens and broth to skillet, cover and sauté until greens are just soft, about 5 min. Drain liquid and add greens to shrimp. Add parsley.

Place mixture in freezer for 5-10 minutes to rapidly cool. Or let come to room temperature naturally.

Add shrimp mix to bread along with remaining ¾ cup broth. Stir and put into a greased 13x9-baking dish. Cover with foil and cook for 25 minutes. Remove foil and cook until top starts to brown, about 25 minutes longer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reunited And It Feels So Good

On January 1, 2009 I ate French fries. This may not seem extraordinary to you, but to me it was like Christmas all over again. You see these were the first fries to cross my lips in nearly five months.

After thinking I might have a heart problem, I decided to quit eating fries for the rest of the year. That day was August 15, 2008. A few months later when I learned I had the cholesterol of a koala, I decided to keep my promise just to see if I could do it.

It was not easy, because I absolutely love fries! I feel that a hot fry is divine. A warm fry is still pretty darn good. A luke-warm fry can be overlooked, as long as there is plenty of ketchup. But a cold fry is a disgrace. And I forced myself to do without any of them for what seemed like an eternity. I mean I could eat fries every day of the week. On several occasions I actually have. But despite the pain and a few near misses, I succeeded in my goal to finish the year fry free. But now the year had been over for nearly 13 hours and I wanted my fries.

Because these were to be very special fries I had to choose them carefully. I couldn’t risk some hung-over fry cook half-assing my French fries. I needed a name I could trust. That name was McDonald, Ronald McDonald.

McDonald’s fries are hot, crispy on the outside and soft in the inside; the three requirements for any French-fry to be worthy of time in your mouth. For those of you who are rolling your eyes in disagreement, I have two words: Shut It.

McDonald’s fries are not the best fries I’ve ever had, that honor belongs to Fergburger in Qweenstown, New Zealand. Nor are they the best fries for sopping up Heinz ketchup (anything else is just a waste of tomatoes), that is what one does with Bojangles’ season fries that are salty enough to give a dolphin high blood pressure. And fries cooked in the ever so trendy duck fat have no equal when it comes to richness. However, McDonald’s fries are the most consistent on the market.

Even some of my favorite fry makers have off days. When I eat fries that are a bit overdone or the oil in the fryer is a couple of uses too old, it leaves me feeling a little cheated at the end of my meal. Not Ronald. His fries are always perfect and I knew my risk of disappointment was nil. One can’t be sure the sun will rise in the morning, but one can sleep well knowing McDonald’s fries will taste the same as they did the last time, every time.
My recent obsession with French fries led me to attempt to learn of their origins. After hours of research I know only one thing: people everywhere like them.
While France, Belgium and even Spain like to lay claim to the fried potato, it is Thomas Jefferson who gets the credit for popularizing the fry in the US. After returning from a stint as the Minister of France in 1789, the US President-to-be brought back a recipe for his chefs called “potatoes fried in the French manner.” But even this is a mystery as it is debunked by several fry researchers (dare call them, “fry-sci’s?”).

Cooking French Fries seems simple enough: cut potatoes, drop in oil, salt and eat. And truthfully, that’s all there really is to it. But if that’s true, why then do all French fries taste differently? And to that I say... I haven’t the slightest idea.
Whether you call them chips, papas fritas, pommes, frytki or картофель фри, here’s a method to make great fried potatoes every time.

Heat oven to 200.
Heat oil in fryer or pot to 325. (True bad-asses use horse fat).
Slice an old Russet potato into wedges or fries. (Older potatoes have less moisture resulting in a lighter and fluffier fry).
Place fries in a bowl of ice water while cutting remaining potatoes.
Drain fries and dry off extra water with paper towels. (Water breaks down cooking oil making burning more likely).
Add fries to hot oil in batches. Adding too many at once will drastically lower the oil temperature and leave you with a greasy, soggy mess.
Cook fries for until tender and barely golden, about 4-5 min.
Remove fries from oil and drain on a rack or paper.
Cook remaining batches.
After final batch is removed from the oil, increase the temperature to 375-385. Once at temperature, add fries, again in batches, and cook until golden-brown and crispy, about 2-3 min.
Remove from oil, salt and place on rack in 200-degree oven to hold until ready to serve.