Unlike an episode of Epic Meal Time — where bacon cheeseburgers are housed between two bacon donuts, deep-fried in bacon, and finally drizzled with bacon juice — Bacon Nation authors Marie Rama and Peter Kaminsky argue for a different kind of bacon worship, one of control and moderation. Rama, who’s authored Cooking for Dummies and Grilling for Dummies, worked closely with Kaminsky, author of Pig Perfect and Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well, to uncover a less-traversed culinary bacon route. We spoke with Rama about eating bacon every day for two years, and why bacon doesn’t make everything better.
CL: What’s your earliest memory of bacon?
Marie Rama: I remember Sunday morning breakfast when I was about five-years-old. My mom would start cooking bacon, and the smell wafted into my bedroom and woke me up. It’s such a sensuous, primal and seductive smell. That’s part of what makes it so alluring. My co-author often says he went from breast milk to bacon.
You make the comparison of bacon to truffles in caviar, as far as its place as a luxury in our culture. What is it about bacon that makes it feel like a delicacy?
I look at it more as a really capable seasoning ingredient, rather than a food you serve with eggs. It’s not unlike ginger, garlic or salt. Bacon can be used the same way because it has salt, sweetness, smokiness, meatiness and umami flavor that lingers on the tongue. Bacon can elevate a number of dishes in different ways. Like anchovies, you don’t taste straight anchovies in a Caesar salad but it elevates everything else in the dish.
Any advice on buying bacon?
Not all bacons are created equal. Some are poorly made and plumped up with water and liquid smoke (which is why they cook down to tiny little strips). Get bacon that costs more; it’s hung with care, properly cured, aged, and they use real hardwood hickory or cherry wood to get a smoke infusion in the meat.
Any good tricks for using bacon you discovered while writing Bacon Nation?
Yes, I started chopping raw bacon up before cooking it for recipes that need bacon crumbles. A lot of recipes say cook the bacon, and then crumble it. But you lose control over the size of the crumbles or how crispy it is when you have to cook it until it crumbles. You lose a lot of the power of the fat’s flavor when it gets overcooked. Cutting it up when it’s raw, then lightly browning it, keeps a lot of the flavor.
Anyone who eats bacon likely has a mason jar full of bacon drippings in the kitchen. But what are some good uses for bacon drippings?
It’s great stuff; you can make popcorn, baste grilled corn, fry eggs, and put it in cornbread. It’s even good in muffins. Supplement the butter for bacon and it tastes even better.
Did writing this book change your relationship with bacon?
There’s this craze with putting bacon in desserts, making bacon prominent. But it doesn’t work so well. I made a pecan pie with bacon, but decided it didn’t really improve the original recipe. It wasn’t better and it wasn’t needed.
Exactly how much bacon did you eat while you were testing recipes?
I tested 35 bacons and ate bacon every day for two years. I didn’t gain any weight and my cholesterol was fine. There’s a place for bacon in your diet, even if you’re dieting. Peter [Kaminsky] uses the term “flavor per calorie.” He means eating a small piece of chocolate instead of 10 Oreo cookies. We approached bacon judiciously. You don’t need a lot, just enough.