If it wasn’t for bacon, I would be in my twelfth year of meat-free cooking and eating. At that time, when I was still a vegetarian, I was living in a house that was all vegetarians and vegans, so the temptation of bacon was never a problem; we were happy to eat leafy greens from the garden and spread our toast with organic Earth Balance butter substitute. It wasn’t until I was attending a Sunday brunch at a (not-vegetarian) friend’s house that I lost the battle of wills to bacon. It was nine years ago, but I remember it well. I walked into my friend’s house, probably sporting some garlic laced veggie/vegan dish in hand, and the smell of it hissing in the pan hit me instantly. I will always remember bacon, as it was a Sunday regular at the breakfast table growing up. This aroma socked me in the nose, grabbed me by the stomach, and walked my weak knees right over to the stove, where it hypnotized me swimming around in a grease induced coma, begging me to eat it. I now stood face to face with a massive dilemma: do I break my three year run and give in to this overwhelming temptation? Or do I walk away from it, taking comfort in the sturdy habits of self-denial. While we waited in the kitchen my friend poured us all a round of mimosas, but I was barely able to take part in the conversation. I would nod and say, “yeah sure” every four minutes or so, but to remember what we actually talked about was, let’s say, hopeless. While brunch was cooked and set out, I mused – to bacon or not to bacon? In the end, I’m pretty sure the champagne made me do it. I ate the bacon without remorse. The first taste and bite sent me back, like I was in a time machine, sixteen and now sitting on our sailboat bobbing up and down and reveling in every last bite. The saltiness and texture of bacon can never be replaced, oh bacon, how I love thee.
Okay, so now I have baconed, and I’m never going back, but at home back then I had to explain to my still-vegetarian/vegan roommates that I now like bacon. I now eat bacon. Talk about the Spanish Inquisition. I was met with outraged questions and scowls and overall disgust. How could I, a committed and practicing vegetarian of three years, give it all up for bacon? We had a long drawn out conversation about the new way I would lead my life, and I reassured them that no, I would not eat raw steak three meals a day. Nor would I dress in leather and furs, and I would not be raising my own farm animals out back to butcher in the bathtub for future dinners.
Having not done it for so long, I had to relearn how to cook bacon. I also had to do
it somewhere else, as the fine folks I lived with – one of them still a great friend today – forbade it inside our house. I tried many different ways. I tried it grilled in a pan over gas heat (Smokey), butter-fried in a cast iron pan (burnt), skewered like a marshmallow over an open fire while camping (dangerous), and even in the microwave (NO, NO, NO, absolutly not!). It was then that I was introduced to “baking bacon.”
What? Put it in the oven? That sounds, well, different. But if you haven’t cooked bacon this way I now urge you to try it. You will need to give yourself a little more time for this method, but I promise it’s worth it. Using the oven will never set off your smoke detectors because the heat is controlled and constant. Your bacon will also crisp evenly creating the ultimate texture and flavor. I recommend that you go out and treat yourself to a couple of Silpats. Silpats are made from silicone, made in France and for decades by professional chefs. Silpats are easy to wash, creates a non-stick surface, helps prevent overcooking and can be used over and over again, say goodbye to foil and parchment paper.This earth friendly option should make up for constantly leaving the refrigerator door open all the time, and they will become your new best friend for anything you cook in the oven, like chocolate chip cookies.
Preheat the oven to 365°, and lay your awesome new Silpat at the bottom of a standard lipped baking sheet. At this point, you can change up the style of bacon you serve by throwing some different seasonings on top. I like to use a mesquite seasoning, with cracked peppercorns; or try cayenne pepper for spicy bacon, the flavor options are endless. Lay your seasoned or unseasoned bacon on the baking sheet so the pieces don’t overlap, then place in the oven. After about 9 minutes turn the pan around so that they all crisp evenly, and cook for another 9 minutes or so. Depending on your oven and preferences and the thickness of your bacon, it may take more or less time to
cook to perfection, keep an eye out. The final result should be the best bacon that you’ve ever tasted; you’ll know it when you taste it, the perfect crunch that seems to melt in your mouth. Baking bacon will change the way everything taste, no more jaw exercises while you try to chew through your B.L.T., those days are over. When you have finished baking your bacon, place on your choice of paper product to absorb the excess grease, if you want too. Serve and enjoy. Yumm!!!
Don’t throw away that extra bacon grease. Run the grease
through a fine mesh screen to take out all the impurities and let solidify. You
can use the bacon fat for replacement of butter. I used some recently as a
partial substitute for butter in a batch of chocolate chip cookies, it added
the perfect crunch. If you like soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies, stick with the butter. You can use bacon fat for any other frying use, like sauteing fresh green beans with cherry tomatoes. Maybe this for a future post?
On a personal note, I do practice and enjoy the art of vegan and vegetarian cooking and dining; there are a lot of amazing recipes out there and even more so, some amazing chefs. I sometimes find myself going weeks or months without consuming meat. I only indulge every once in a while, what a treat it is.