"Awesome!" A Blog.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bacon No. 3: Carlton Farms Canadian-Style Bacon

Food and I have had a rough couple weeks. Late last month I attended a remarkably well-apportioned bachelor party for an old friend, and in the two nights after that I officiated at a few high-octane events for my beloved Stanford Chaparral. What was once a typical three-day bender — one which might have ended with a bit of waterskiing and a mid-morning trip to a steak restaurant in another state — put me on the rails so hard that my immune system was reduced to an unconvincing leukocyte in a dirty Superman costume. Disease after disease ravaged my body, exhausted my lungs, and diddled the dobro of my swan song. Wakefulness was agony, marked by periods of joyless work and difficult parenting.

Somewhere along the endless toilet paper ticker tape into which I blew my nose, or perhaps expectorated against some luckless street tree, rested the conjoined apparatus of my taste and smell organs. Food had no flavor, rotten items in the refrigerator had no odor. My own clothing, to which I am deeply sensitive, betrayed none of the telltale fragrances of overuse. To eat was to cough, and to think was to worry that I'd never enjoy food again. Sure, I'd wind up looking like Scott Weiland, but skinny people are never happy. They lack the blood chemistry which activates a convincing smile.

The UPS man dropped a fat little package of a new sort of bacon into the rattle of all that misery. This time it's Carlton Farms Canadian-Style Bacon, dry cured and alder/hickory smoked, from Oregon. My mind peered forth from the shroud of tubercular angst long enough to appreciate that unlike the all-fat belly and jowl bacons I'd been receiving, this sample was cured center-cut loin. An all-meat spacer in the opening salvo of pure lard.

Still on the recovery trail, ready for nothing and able of less, I sliced a few pieces off the uncut loin and pan-fried them with some bread and an egg. The Carlton Canadian-Style Bacon isn't the tough-love rubber you get on pizza; it's tender and evenly seasoned. This is the bacon I'd like to use in a carbonara -- something that's not just egregious fat in a recipe already filled with unctuous yolks and cheese. Fat sneaks into a happy diet from so many cracks and seams -- the bacon should be adding salt and smoke, not grease.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This is My Jowl, and it Freaks Me Out! (bacon 2 post 2)

I'm not particularly scared of jowl bacon, actually. The first time I ever encountered face meat—veal cheeks, to be precise—in a restaurant, I was in the early throes of a passion for brave new foods, and ordered them without hesitation so as to seem gustatorily advanced in front of my future in-laws. Fortunately, they just turned out to be plump little brown things (the veal cheeks), not unlike shank or pot roast. This was a relief, because at the time I had been "pretending" my way through a lot of sashimi. (To this day, I still can't join ranks with those of you who think you are big scary bears.)

Application #1
Tired of charitably wrapping bacon around bland meats like chicken breasts and scallops, I thought I'd go for a real speedball with this latest test. I strode up to the longest butcher's counter in town, ordered a handful of lamb tenderloins, and grabbed some mint and jalapeños on the way out. This dish was going to have "game," I decided. (The game in question turned out to be Retchin' Retchin' Hippos, as opposed to an event where Michael Jordan springs off the half-court line, propels himself off the top of the backboard, and continues on into space.)

Having seasoned the lamb strips, I wrapped them in jowl bacon and let them sit at room temperature for a while, figuring the fleshes would become tacky and stick together better. Meanwhile, I hummed and chatted with myself as I chopped mint and jalapeño for the sauce. I'd do them in a pan, and when the fond had built and the grease had rendered, I'd deglaze with a little red wine. I'd throw the mint and jalapeños in, stir quickly, and pour it all over my tight little browned marvels.

High on the taste of an unsauced test bite of bacon-wrapped lamb, I turned off my brain and operated by instinct. I threw in the wine. It hissed and steamed in that pleasing way. I threw in the mint and chili. Finding my sauce volume lacking, I went for a bit of dairy to fill it out. My hands were guided to a tub of sour cream, from which I cast a good dollop and whisked.

The resulting sauce was thick and pink, the wine mixing with the dairy and creating something which, at a family reunion, could probably call over the photographer and clink glasses with Pepto-Bismol. Blinded by the juices of bacon and lamb, I spooned it over three servings of plated tenderloins: one for me, one for the warehouse guy, and one for my mother, who was over that day.

We sat on the old iron patio set and slid our special occasion brass-fitted Laguiole steak knives from their burnished case. Why not break the good stuff out whenever you can, I say — what good does it do you to die with nice things in the garage?

The freshly-sharpened edge of the knife fell through the meat with surgical efficiency (to this day I swear I saw Anthony Edwards run across the back of the yard, give me a quick double-thumbs up, and then plow headfirst into the apple tree). I pushed the morsel around in a good batch of pink sauce and lifted it to my lips.

- - -

MOM: Mmmm! Delicious, honey!

ME: Oh my god this sauce is terrible.

MOM: No! You did good! I'm so proud my boys like to cook.

ME: Agh it's all acid, and heat, and it looks like a pink Converse pinched one on my plate.

MOM: [giggles] Oh, I don't know. I like it.

ME: I'm sorry, mom. I'll do better next time.

MOM: [stiffens, sets fork down] You said that about Stanford.

WAREHOUSE GUY: [plate is mysteriously clean, dog is retching over by the shed] Good stuff!

- - -

Indescribably bad. Wine on jalapeño on sour cream was just the type of triple-acid funnycar you'd expect. Plus, it was quite spicy, and you couldn't taste the meats very well for all of that.

Just this last weekend my old friend Steve came in to town from Cleveland, where he regularly receives heartbreaking email about his oncology and hematology (cancer and blood disease) patients. (Actually, he just did that at my kitchen table for a while — I have no idea what his day-to-day is like. Table tennis in the lounge?) Needless to say, he takes his happy days where he can get them, and insisted on whipping me up his special wilted spinach salad with bacon and tangerines.

We all know the sort of cook who has a few staple recipes that he can pull off in his sleep. Steve is one of them. Bacon spinach salad, T-bone steak with Emeril's essence, a mean Austin-style breakfast spread...he's got it. If Steve were a restaurant, he'd be in business. If I were a restaurant, my dog would be retching on the front steps of City Hall while the cameras rolled. I was wondering what would happen with Burgers' Jowl Bacon. Steve happened to this bacon, and it was tasty.

I have a few slices left. I'm thinking of doing a banh mi: a Vietnamese baguette sandwich typically with some kind of cured or otherwise strong meat, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrot, thinly sliced hot pepper, and dressing. Banh mi are like girls: your first real experience with one will forever have you driving around low-rent strip malls looking for more.