Must-Read Cookbook: Bacon Nation

The bacon blitz: It’s not just for breakfast — or big pig-outs — anymore

It’s no secret that most everybody loves bacon. In fact, in the introduction to their new book, Bacon Nation (Workman Publishing, $14.95), authors Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama proclaim, “There are just two kinds of people in the world: those who adore bacon and those who have never eaten it.”

Still, Rama — a cookbook author who lives in Yonkers and Greene County — says that many people feel guilty about indulging in this tasty treat. And, she adds, many bacon recipes seem to involve “wrapping bacon around everything and adding lots of processed cheese.” But Rama and Kaminsky (a noted food writer and something of a “porkologist,” says Rama, who points out that he penned Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them) are on a mission to bring bacon into the everyday diet of the average American. “We talked to chefs and they told us that they use bacon in their kitchens as a seasoning ingredient, exactly the way that they might use garlic or anchovies or onions,” says Rama. “In the book, we have a lot of recipes where we may only use five strips of bacon, so it’s not overwhelming the dish, but it is seasoning it. It really adds something.”

bacon nation book
chicken tagine

Chicken Tagine (Recipe)

Courtesy of Bacon Nation
bacon swizzle sticks

Bacon Swizzle Sticks (Recipe)

Courtesy of Bacon Nation

Bacon Nation features more than 120 recipes, including breakfasts, appetizers, soups, salads, main dishes, breads, and even desserts. “We covered traditional recipes, like wrapping shrimp in bacon, but we always tried to give it a little twist,” Rama says. “Then, there are some things you would have never considered adding bacon to.”

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Rama spent a few years perfecting all of the recipes. One of her most interesting discoveries was what bacon can do for soups and stocks. “If you add a couple of strips of bacon, and maybe an onion, to canned chicken broth, what you get is a very creamy, sort of milky-flavored broth that is terrific as a base for soups, as well as for poaching fish. That really, really surprised me. I thought, ‘Wow, this is quite useful.’ ”

Rama borrows another cooking tip, this one from the French: using slab bacon, also called lardons, for soups and stews. When thrown in, lardons “release their fats and flavors slowly as the dish stews,” says Rama, noting that Julia Child had a very famous recipe for beef bourguignon using lardons. So why does bacon work so well with practically everything? “It’s because of the diverse flavors,” says Rama. “It’s both sweet and salty, and it’s smoky, too. Then you have the element of umami — that savory taste that lingers on the tongue. When you eat a strip of bacon, that’s what you get — something that lasts on your palate. When you take all these elements — and sometimes you get a crunch, too — it’s just such an ingenious food.”

But, you ask, what about that pesky fat issue? “Well,” says Rama, “Peter and I are pretty thin and health-minded. We wanted to create something where you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about using bacon. I was always careful to try to get the maximum amount of flavor with the minimum amount of fat. That is very, very doable.”

So did Rama discover anything that does not go well with bacon? “Yes, I made a bacon pecan pie — but the bacon just didn’t do anything for it. But that’s it; there is really not a whole lot that doesn’t work.”

Buy the Best: “I tried to make my own bacon a few times,” says Rama. “But it’s really tricky unless you are a pro; it’s hard to get the salt and the smoke exactly right.” So where does Rama get her best bacon? The Smokehouse of the Catskills in Saugerties. “They’ve been there a long time,” she says. “And they do a really great job”

Bacon for the big game?

The Super Bowl takes place on February 2. If you’re not lucky enough to have tickets to the game (held right over the border in New Jersey for the first time ever), you’ll can console yourself by serving something made with bacon: Look for a great recipe from Bacon Nation in next month’s issue. No matter who you’re rooting for, you can count on the fact that everyone will want to be a part of Team Bacon.

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