Bacon fanatic or not, few will disagree that the bacon buttie is one of Britain’s culinary triumphs, with Antonio Carluccio calling it his “favourite British food” and Al Murray saying it is “the greatest hangover cure known to man”.
Whether the crispy tranches are nestled between hunks of bread or a fresh bap, smothered or sprinkled with sauce or defiantly plain, the beloved bacon sandwich has been hailed as the number one British national treasure. In a recent T-mobile survey of 60,000 Britons, it pipped the English countryside, a cup of tea and fish and chips to top spot, budging the Queen to 15th place. With over £2 billion spent on this humble cured meat every year in this country, one in ten of us chose bacon as our favourite food according to Food Network UK.
In Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, The Fat Duck, the classic bacon and egg flavour is encapsulated in his wacky ice-cream dish. Burger King have followed suit and are now offering this meaty treat in a limited-edition ice-cream sundae- vanilla ice-cream sprinkled with bacon crumbles and a piece of “thick-cut bacon”. Unpalatable though this may sound, it has been received very well in Nashville, where it was first launched. Other more unpleasant products have jumped on the bacon bandwagon, including bacon lip balm , toothpastes for your pearly whites and, if that isn’t enough, bacon-scented soap to lather your body with so you smell nice and…well, meaty.
Bacon often gets a bad rap for being fatty and having a high salt content, but it can be part of a healthy diet. After all, it is high in protein, which means that it has a greater satiating effect after a meal than other meals, making you less likely to overeat. It is a good source of Vitamin B1 and B12, which can boost vitality as well as phosphorus, zinc and selenium, helping to boost your immunity. For people watching their blood sugar, it has little effect because it’s so low in carbohydrates. How the bacon is processed is key to its nutritional value. Michael Jones, of Drings butchers in London says: “if you get a good piece of bacon, which hasn’t been cloaked in sugar and fat, it’s just a good piece of meat that is tasty, nutritious and ethical too.”
As 1st September heralds International Bacon day, what better way to celebrate the intense and robust flavours of this meat than to cook with it (and, if you’re feeling brave, purchase some bacon-flavoured dental floss on Amazon). But with words such as “dry cured” and “smoked” bandied about in bacon circles, selecting the right cure and cut for the right meal can be a mindboggling task. Our chef, Patrick, who often brightens his weekend breakfast table and evening meals with this delectable meat, is here to offer a helping hand, guaranteed to make you squeal with delight!
When hunting for bacon, quality is key and so speciality meat shops or markets tend to be your best bet. Patrick says that “good-quality bacon should not smell of anything. It should be slightly damp to the touch, but not wet or slimy. There should be no yellow or green shimmery stains on the meat as these suggest that the meat isn’t fresh and the meat should be firm (not floppy) and a deep pink colour with equal amounts of lean meat and fat.” If you’re salivating over a crispy bacon sarnie, look for a thin cut as the thicker cut tends to cook to a more chewy and meaty texture. Most supermarket bacon is wet-cured in a brine bath (you can tell if water is listed as the second ingredient). Dry-cured bacon ensures that water is expelled from the pork, so the bacon will shrink less whilst cooking and shouldn’t exude any “white bits” in the pan. Streaky bacon, from the pork belly, tends to be quite fatty with back bacon as the leanest option.
Having muddled your way through bacon jargon, you’re now faced with SO much choice in the supermarket. To make it easier for you, the “Red, White and Bacon awards 2012” have shortlisted the following as the tastiest on the supermarket shelves: Waitrose “Free Range unsmoked dry cured back bacon”, Sainsbury’s “Taste the difference Wiltshire cured unsmoked back bacon” and Marks and Spencer “Juniper spiced smoked back bacon”.
Toss it into a salad, revive yourself mid-afternoon with this mouth-watering hero of the English breakfast or simply air the house with the smell of sizzling bacon to awaken a lazy housemate. Whatever you decide to do this International Bacon day, pay tribute to our national culinary star in the words of Homer Simpson: “mmm..bacon”.