Bacon No. 5: Hempler's Peppered Bacon
Hempler's Peppered Bacon arrived yesterday. It's thick-cut, looks like a pastrami, and is far lower in fat than its predecessors because it's mostly meat (they say the bellies are trimmed before curing — huzzah from one who's been eating pure pork fat for the last four months). Hempler's is wet-cured, maple- and hickory-smoked, and flavored with black pepper, mustard seed, paprika, and onion powder: this is by far the most gussied-up bacon I've received from the Grateful Palate's Bacon of the Month club. It comes to us from Washington state.
I was inspired to plant myself at my desk at 4pm on a Friday afternoon by a sandwich I just made with this bacon. Normally at 4pm on a Friday I'm in the back yard with the family and the dog and a beer, throwing tennis balls around, looking up at airplanes, and helping people point the hose into the kiddie-pool. Today, however, a confluence of events steered me into the kitchen for a mid-afternoon snack: the wife is away watching the new Harry Potter, the tot isn't moving from the Curious George marathon she's arranged for herself, my new "cereal for breakfast and lunch" diet has me seeking the support of door frames and banisters all the time, and we had a leftover "artisanal" sandwich roll so light and velvety to the touch that I could not bear to watch it go stale. "Why not make a sandwich and do a bacon update," I thought, as I cracked open a nice chilly beer. "We've got that three dollar heirloom tomato, after all."
In The Reach of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman contrasts the cooking of Thomas Keller (driven, tortured, laborious, masochistic yet sadistic, and highly technical) and Masa Takayama (zen-simple sushi, served only omakase style, most dishes prepared in seconds). The philosophy of my sandwich was in the latter camp. I've been overthinking bacon thus far in the experiment. It is inherently a good, finished product and it needs little adornment or technique to guide it into its state of perfection. Case in point:
1 The aforementioned "prince of rolls," something like a personal ciabatta, sliced and lightly toasted, slipper-softness is key
3 Slices thick bacon, cooked but not crisp
2 Thin slices heirloom tomato, never refrigerated, pulp gently massaged out
1-2 tbsp Mayonnaise to lightly coat inside of sandwich
1/2 tsp or so Cream-style horseradish to work into mayonnaise
salt and pepper to season dressed bread before filling
We didn't need to turn it into lardons for Coq au Vin. We didn't need to purée it and use it to caulk red mullet into papillote. We didn't need Grant Achatz to dangle it off a miniature fishing rod while strapping dorsal fins to our backs. This was a BLT. Some L would have been nice, but I was out. Did you notice the horseradish? You might know it as that searing, unbroken condiment that ruins many a plate of beef. This tiny amount, worked into mayonnaise, is gentle, warm, and just a bit spicy. Please, pick up a little jar of it. I think the cream-style preparation is even milder than the others you find on the shelf. Rediscover horseradish. I think it's going to have a big 2008. Here, touch my hand.
This is a sandwich bacon. It's not the thin sort that you wrap around things. It's big and meaty and rewarding to chew through. This will likely be a strong sandwich month here at the Bacon Blog. I won't disappoint you by doing a bunch of hackneyed California stuff with avocados and boneless skinless chicken breasts. I may finally work out a banh mi for my common-grocery honkeys, and how about a proper breakfast burrito? I grew up on those, and I have iron-fisted opinions about what should and should not be.
* The review of Bacon No. 4, Edwards Brown Sugar Bacon, will appear here shortly.