The one with all the brackets. Or the one about the bacon salt.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” Winnie the Pooh

About me: there’s not a lot to know (and frankly, do you care?) but it can be useful to know this … and before I tell you the ‘this’ I should qualify ‘useful’. The following information is useful only if a) you’re a booker for Jeopardy and are desperate for a contestant and someone inexplicably gave you my number – DON’T CALL ME! You’ll lose your job and b) if you find yourself having to order for me in a restaurant and don’t really know where to start with that (don’t worry,  it’ll probably never happen). So as information goes, not really useful at all …

Have you ever been at a dinner party where the hostess has called for quiet and then asked the room which celebrity, fictional character, historical figure (whatever) they most identify with? I have. Yes, really, I have. An excruciating silence befalls the room, everyone shifts slightly uncomfortably and wishes they could get back to the not uninteresting conversation with the handsome (read: available and fiscally viable) optometrist and then the hostess launches into her, “I’m like Angelina Jolie” speech. It takes you a little while to realize it’s not because she (your hostess) is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador (she’s not) or because she’s adopted 11 children from 13 different countries (she hasn’t) or because she was once married to Tommy Lee Jones (she wasn’t) but because she owns a full set of Louis Vuitton luggage. The question is a bit of a death knell at parties but makes for interesting thinking in the cab on the way home (especially as you’re alone in the cab because it turned out the optometrist wasn’t actually available, his girlfriend was just running late). Where was I? Oh yes, in the cab, thinking (if only the hapless hostess knew that secretly were all dying to play her party game). So mine is Winnie The Pooh. And here’s why:

First, like Winnie, I am of little brain. I know enough to know that I don’t know enough – it’s the worst kind of brain to have. Better to not know that you don’t know, I think.

Winnie the Pooh, “When you are a bear of very little brain and you think of things, you find sometimes that a thing which seemed very thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it,” (a bit like this post)

Secondly, like our friend Winnie, I am almost single mindedly obsessed with one type of food. Pig though, not honey. To the point of distraction sometimes. I mean, I can spend a lot of hours thinking about pork and pork products.

Which leads me to the point of this post. Bacon salt. A couple of months ago a very clever chef friend (Ian Leckie*, Sam’s Brasserie, also a pork lover) and I ate at a restaurant that claimed to dust its fries in bacon salt. I had a difficult time imagining a more glorious side dish than thick, home-cut fries glistening with hot oil and then dusted in what must surely be a masterpiece of kitchen engineering. Anyway, they weren’t. There was little chance of the real thing living up to the fantasy I managed to create in the ten or so minutes between ordering and the food arriving but these didn’t even try. Not so much “bacon salt” as just little bits of overcooked bacon sprinkled over the fries – they weren’t even salted with regular salt!

Ian and I spent the rest of lunch discussing the possibility of bacon salt. Could this be a real thing? Or is it just a cruel tease? Like summer in England? We both vowed to try. Ian had to get back to real life and running a busy kitchen in London, so probably forgot our solemn “vow” the second he got on the plane and headed home. I didn’t though, I continued living my fantasy life in Miami. The one in which I lunch with the girls, do Pilates, attend book club and figure out how to make bacon salt.

And so here it is… I tried several variations of this before getting a finished product I was completely happy with, and once I’d found a recipe/method I liked I tested it a lot (it is bacon, after all) so I’m confident this works. It’s simple, really really simple, only two ingredients but requires a bit of patience.

250g (8 or 9 oz) of good bacon, regular cut, not thick-cut. Smoked or unsmoked – I tried both and preferred the smoked. Get it from the butcher counter if you can and buy the best quality you can afford. With only two ingredients there is nowhere for bad quality to hide.

1 teaspoon of sea salt. Again, use the best quality salt you can.

Pre-heat the oven to 200f (90c)

Trim absolutely all the fat** off the bacon, use scissors if it makes it a bit easier.

Spread the trimmed bacon out on a baking rack set over a baking tray and bake for three hours (see edit March 5, 2013) then switch off the oven and let the bacon cool completely. Place the now dried bacon between a couple of sheets of kitchen paper to absorb any remaining fat – let it stand for a bit to be sure.

Blitz the bacon with a stick blender (mine is called a Ninja, it’s lethal. If yours is not called a Ninja it might not work quite as well).

Add the salt and blizt again until you have a pretty fine powder – you don’t want to be biting down on pieces of bacon, it is meant to be a seasoning, not a side dish. (This will keep for a week to ten days in an airtight container.)

And once you’ve made it, what on earth do you do with it? Absolutely anything you like. We’ve had it on fries, on roast potatoes, on a bagel with cream cheese, on mac ‘n cheese, on canapés, on popcorn… the possibilities are endless.

*If you’d like to eat something cooked by the very talented Ian Leckie, you’ll need to visit him here – it’s unlikely you’ll find bacon salt on the menu, but Ian is a very good cooker of fish. And if you’d like to know what Ian has to say on Twitter, you need to click here.

**Don’t throw the bacon fat away, you can render it down on a low heat in a frying pan, pass it through a sieve and use it for any number of delicious things… like bacon mayo.

EDIT, March 5, 2013 – I’ve been making this a lot recently and have found that lowering the temperature a little and drying the bacon for longer, say four to five hours, yields a better textural result. Be sure not to let the bacon char, however, you don’t want a burnt bacon flavor in your salt.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully. 

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.” 

“And he has Brain.” 

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.” 

There was a long silence. 

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

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Bacon gold – the future of mayonnaise

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully, “It’s the same thing,” he said.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Piglet is not made out of bacon and focus on the fact that breakfast, the very existence of breakfast, amounts to an exciting day.

This week it is all about the bacon. A love of bacon. That porky, salty, sometimes crispy, sometimes fatty, most perfect of all the meats. Bacon. Actually, it’s about bacon fat.

I’m not here to tell you how to cook bacon, I am going to tell you how not to cook it, then I’m going to tell you how not to waste the bacon gold. First, buy good bacon. Buy good bacon or don’t bother. If you’re buying pre-packaged bacon make sure you read the ingredients on the packet before putting it into your shopping cart. If “water” or “water added” appears anywhere on the packaging just put it down and walk away. This is not bacon, it is something else. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not bacon.

Second, don’t throw cold bacon into a screaming hot pan. Third, don’t throw cold bacon into a screaming hot pan to which you may have added any kind of fat – olive oil, canola oil, butter, whatever – you don’t need it.

Remove the bacon from the fridge about 10-15 minutes before you’re ready to cook it. Heat your good frying-pan to a moderate/high heat, add the bacon in a single layer (bacon that overlaps does not cook) and cook it slowly, rendering as much fat out of the bacon as possible – this may mean turning the heat down a bit. If you’re cooking lardons or bacon cubes the rendering process will take longer than if you’re cooking slices of bacon, but it is all worth the wait. I can’t tell you how long it will take, it really depends on how thick your bacon is, but it’s not quick (okay, so apparently I am going to tell you how to cook bacon).

Five or six paragraphs in and I’m finally at the point of this post: bacon fat or, more accurately, liquid, edible, bacon gold. Soon after cooking, so before the fat has a chance to thicken or set, strain into a fridge-suitable container. I line my tea strainer with a bit of cheese cloth and strain the fat into a clean glass jar – this leaves you with a rich, golden, bit-free liquid. Label it and refrigerate until you’re ready to make one of the following…

  • bacon mayo
  • whipped bacon honey butter (oh yes, that is a thing and it is awesome)
  • bacon caramel popcorn or just bacon popcorn or bacon chilli popcorn
  • Just about any veggies – collard greens, savoy cabbage, kale (or any greens really) cooked low and slow,
  • asparagus or brussels sprouts simply blanched then sautéed in bacon fat
  • wedges of hispi cabbage brushed in smokey bacon fat at grilled on the BBQ
  • roast potatoes
  • confit tomatoes
  • sautéed apples or pears for roast pork
  • serve it as a starter, warm and runny with some good bread for dipping

Really, the possibilities are endless, however I’m not going to bore you with the endless possibilities in this post. Today I’m just going to do the bacon mayo and in future posts I’ll show you some of the others if you’re interested. If there’s anything on this list you’re really eager to try and would like a recipe for, please get in touch and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

Okay, bacon mayonnaise. The future of mayonnaise. I don’t know why it’s not all bacon mayo all the time. Seriously, this stuff is awesome… on a burger, on a BLT, as part of a salad dressing (not for any kind of healthy salad, of course), on a fish-finger sandwich… a couple of nights ago we had seared, lightly seasoned mahi mahi with a dollop of bacon mayo – delicious!

  • 125 ml strained, liquid bacon fat (if it has come straight out of the fridge pop the jar into some warm water to melt the fat – it must be room temperature)
  • 125 ml oil – I wouldn’t use olive oil for this as it can be very strong. Grape seed is a good option but canola, veg or sunflower will also work
  • 3 medium egg yolks – from the best, free range, organic eggs you can find
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • salt to taste – you may not need this as the bacon fat is sometimes salty enough
  • cayenne pepper, freshly cracked black pepper, chilli flakes – these are an optional garnishes, choose something that matches your dish or leave them out altogether.
  • Cold water – this is not always necessary but if your mayo looks too thick add a bit of water a teaspoon at a time.

In a blender or with a whisk, beat your egg yolks well – a blender is quick and easy to use but after making mayonnaise the old fashioned way you really feel like you’ve earned it. With the blender motor running or with your whisk arm working as fast as it can go, slowly start adding your oil a little at a time. When you’ve added all the oil, do the same with the bacon fat. Once the egg, oil and bacon fat have formed a thick emulsion add the lemon juice and salt if required. Keep the water handy in case you need to thin out the mayonnaise.

If you do none of these things, if you never save your bacon fat, never use it to make popcorn or let its silken goodness drip into the crevasses of a toasted English muffin, never coat potatoes before roasting or BBQ hispi cabbage wedges coated in bacon fat, if none of these things appeals to you, that’s okay. I ask that you just do this one thing – please don’t tip your bacon fat, or any fat, down the sink.

If you think you deserve a treat: So, you’re on your way home and you’ve had a really hard day – I don’t mean a ‘meh’ day, a so-so day, I mean a hard day – stop and buy a good, crusty loaf of bread. When you get home, and preferably when no one is around to witness this heart stopping (literally, heart stopping) act, rip a chunk of bread off your new loaf, dip a clean knife into your jar of saved bacon fat and smear it onto a piece of fresh bread, add a sprinkle of Maldon salt, close your eyes and enjoy.

If you think you deserve a treat and you’re in Brooklyn, New York: Even if you’re not in Brooklyn, if you’re somewhere else and you think you deserve a treat, go to Brooklyn. For the handsome sum of $4, Fatty Cue in Brooklyn will serve you a dish called Dragon Pullman Toast with a side of master fat. Dragon Pullman toast, I think so named for the Chinatown Bakery that provides the bread, is just thick slices of slightly sweet toasted bread. The master fat is, I think, the expertly strained fat left after smoking and roasting endless pork shoulders and pork bellies. Put it on your list.

WARNING – while all of the above dishes are good for the soul, none of them are good for the body. Please exercise moderation.

I love clams!

This is delicious. And easy. And versatile. I know the recipe looks long but this is because I’m a bit wordy today – it’s really quite quick.

Chickpeas are very much de rigueur at the moment – really inexpensive and irritatingly good for you.

So this is a little chickpea something something. Barrafina in Soho in London had a similar offering on its menu last summer (not sure if it is still there) – more as a side dish and without the chilli but the idea is the same. This works as a starter or main course in a number of guises – skip the clams and serve as a side with just about anything from roast pork belly or roast chicken to a pork chop or sausages. Or don’t skip the clams and toss in some mussels as well. I’m not doing that here, we had it with clams so that’s what I’m going to show you.

This served two as a generous main course.

Ingredients

For the clams

As many clams as you’d like per person, I used about 20 in the recipe – scrubbed and purged in salt water to remove any sand

Enough dry white wine to steam the clams (a bit of chicken stock works too, if you prefer) – you shouldn’t need more than a cup

About 1/2  a large shallot, finely chopped (save the other half for the chickpeas)

2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 table spoons olive oil

For the chickpeas

About 450g chickpeas at their cooked weight – so about a can if you’re using canned or about 200g dried if you’re using dried. The dried variety gives a better result and makes you feel a more virtuous chef, but they do have to soak for at least 12 hours and then cook for about 40 minutes (or more if they’ve been hanging around in your pantry for ages). Using canned makes this a pretty quick dish to prepare. (I won’t bore you with the details of preparing dried chickpeas, I’m sure you all know how but if you don’t and you’d like to, let me know and I’ll be happy to send you the method. Or just Google it. Or read the instructions on the bag).

250g smoked bacon cut into about 1/2cm pieces – thick-cut lardons give a better, meatier result but when I prepared this dish I could not find any uncut or thick-cut bacon so made-do with a good applewood-smoked bacon from our local deli.

3 large chipotles, chopped (or fewer if you want less of a kick) – if you can’t find chipotles, you can substitute the chipotle paste you find in the supermarket or regular, fresh jalapeños. I have recently read much about preparing chipotles for cooking. Some say dry fry first, others say it is not necessary. I have tried both and think the texture is much nicer if fried before soaking. They only need to soak for about ten minutes in very little water, just enough to cover. Save the soaking liquid as you may want to add it to your stock

1 and a half large shallots, finely chopped

4 to 6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 large kale leaves (or more if you’d like)

600ml chicken stock (liquid is best but cubes will work)

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredient notes

Kale can be replaced with a different leafy-green – savoy cabbage would work well. At Barrafina they use spinach but I prefer the flavour and texture of a more robust leaf (not that I think I know better than Barrafina’s Nieves Barragán Mohacho, because let’s face it, she is awesome. Her recipe for this dish is in the Barrafina book).

Chipotles and bacon – I was going for a bit of a South American twist so used smoked bacon and chipotles for extra smokiness but I have made this dish with cured, unsmoked lardons and fresh red chillis and loved that too. Toss through a handful of roughly chopped coriander leaves to change it up a bit if you like.

Prepare the chickpeas

Heat your saucepan over a medium heat and add the bacon (you can add a splash of olive oil to the pan if you think you need it but it should be okay without) and reduce the heat slightly, stirring regularly for 10 to 15 minutes. You don’t want crispy bacon but you do want good colour and as much fat rendered out of the bacon as possible.

If the bacon is colouring or crisping too much at this stage, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add your chopped shallots and garlic.

Add the chopped chipotles and season lightly. Sweat until soft. Replace the bacon and add the stock (not fridge-cold) and chipotle liquid if needed. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce by a third.

Add the chopped kale and reduce by another third. Add the chickpeas, simmer for about 7 or 8 minutes and set aside. If you’re serving this as a side dish you can stop reading now, you’re done.

Prepare the clams

Warm the oil in a lidded pot big enough to easily accommodate the clams without crowding them. Add your shallots and garlic, do not colour, you just want them soft. Add your wine (or stock) and bring to the boil. You don’t want the clams submerged in liquid so reduce until you have just enough to create a good, steamy pot – the liquid should be no more than about 1/2cm deep. Add the clams and steam until they open, removing the open ones from the pot as you go – this shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

Return your chickpeas to the heat, add some (or all) of the clam liquor if you like, stir through the clams and serve.

I served this with thick slices of ciabatta, rubbed with a clove of garlic, drizzled with olive oil and grilled on the bbq.