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Bacon: It’s what’s for breakfast, again. This photo is from “Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook” by Alex Guarnaschelli.
It was not so many years ago when the idea of putting bacon in, say, a chocolate cupcake would have seemed a tad weird. Nowadays, bacon in desserts is old hat, and a brief online search reveals that it has even made its way into beverages: At baconfreak.com, you’ll find recipes for the Bacon Chocolate Martini and the Maple Bacon Donut Shooter (“the liquid version of the popular maple bacon donut.”)
The website allrecipes.com boasts “more than 450 trusted bacon recipes.” Hostesses pass platters of unadorned strips of cooked bacon along with canapes of caviar and foie gras. Sophisticated urbanites are making like Ma Kettle and saving bacon drippings for everything from frying eggs to roasting potatoes.
Sometimes, however, you just want to eat bacon the old-fashioned way: crisp, with eggs and toast. That’s the way Alex Guarnaschelli serves it up in “Old-School Comfort Food.” But in the manner of new-school chefs everywhere, she gussies up the bacon a bit, rubbing it with spices first.
The most controversial thing about bacon these days is how to cook it. Some cooks tout the old-fashioned cast-iron skillet, some the grill, some the broiler, some the microwave. But the prevailing wind seems to be shifting toward the oven method.
Baking your bacon has several advantages: It frees the stovetop for cooking other dishes (like eggs overeasy and home fries); it allows you to cook a large quantity at one time; it requires less vigilance; and, most important, it generally results in perfectly cooked bacon.
The usual method of baking bacon is to preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line a jellyroll pan (or other rimmed baking sheet) with foil, and place the bacon either in a single, non-overlapping layer directly on the foil or on a rack (such as a broiler pan). The bacon is baked for 15 to 25 minutes or until crisp.
Guarnaschelli — the daughter of legendary cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, a TV personality and the executive chef of two New York City restaurants — adds another step to the oven method. She tops the bacon with a second piece of foil and plops a baking sheet on it to flatten it and ensure that it cooks up “super crisp.”
While you’re playing with bacon, consider other spice combinations as well. Try brushing it with maple syrup and dusting with ground cardamom, or sprinkling lightly with cayenne pepper. Brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg make a delicious coating. Try your favorite barbecue rub or Cajun spice mix, or coat it in bottled teriyaki sauce and brown sugar. But remember, the more sugar you put on the bacon, the quicker it will burn.
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
12 thin slices bacon
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a jellyroll pan or other large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Line a platter with paper towels and place a rack (such as a wire cake rack) on top.
Place the coriander seeds in an oven-proof skillet or small baking pan and roast in the oven until they begin to give off an aroma, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pan and pour onto a cutting board. Allow to cool for a minute, then flatten by running the bottom of a skillet over them a few times to crush them lightly.
In a medium bowl, combine the toasted coriander seeds, curry, black pepper, red pepper flakes and brown sugar. Add the bacon slices and toss them gently with your hands, coating them on both sides with the sugar mix.
Arrange the bacon slices in a single layer on the prepared pan, gently stretching them flat. Sprinkle any sugar mixture left in the bowl over the bacon. Top with another layer of parchment or foil, and lay another baking sheet (or a baking pan) on top, to keep the bacon slices lying flat.
Bake until golden brown and fairly crisp. Check the bacon after 20 minutes by lifting the top baking sheet and parchment. If it is not ready, resist the temptation to turn up the oven temperature; instead, simply bake for 5 to 15 minutes longer, checking every 5 minutes. It will go from ready to burned fairly quickly because of the brown sugar. Also keep in mind that when you remove the bacon from the oven, it will crisp up a little more.
Transfer bacon to the rack on the lined platter and allow to drain and crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(Recipe from “Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook” by Alex Guarnaschelli; Clarkson Potter, 2013)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.MORE IN Food & Dining
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