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Monday
Sep172012

Let's Talk About Bacon

With all due respect to Salt-n-Peppa, talking about bacon can be much like talking about sex. People have some strong opinions about both. And sometimes, when they talk about bacon, or even just smell it cooking, their eyes roll back into their heads, and they have...well, they have a moment.

What is it about bacon that gets people all hot and bothered?

Bacon comes from a pig. This should not be news to you.

Homer Simpson had somewhat of a revelation when he discovered that pork, ham and BACON all come from the same animal (from "Lisa the Vegetarian", 1995):

Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

But bacon is special. Unlike pork and ham, it's cured with a lot of salt. The salty flavor combines with a lot of fat and that tangy, pink pork meat to make something truly, as Homer would say, magical.

Bacon has become somewhat of a foodie obsession. People chocolate cover it, maple glaze it and top cupcakes with it. I've seen bacon chocolate bars, ice cream flavors and bespoke bacon-infused bourbon drinks...and this bacon shot called "Breakfast in Bed" (thanks to Brittany for the photo):

I, myself, love bacon. Even here on this blog, I've added it to caramel popcorn, candied it, and thrown it into maple scones. And I truly do pause when I smell it cooking and get a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness. And regardless of where I am, I think, "Where DID I put those onions and eggs?" Because, even though I love bacon as an addition to entrees, I still enjoy a good PLATE, I mean a solid SIDE DISH of the stuff.

From the Art of Manliness

But where can you get a good dish of bacon these days? Many places, I'm sure. I particularly like Egg's side of sweet bacon that you can obtain in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and enjoy while you decorate their paper table cloths with crayon doodles.

Recently, I encountered an EPIC pile of bacon. I went to Peter Luger's Steakhouse for the first time. When I told people that I was going to Luger's, I was often met with the response, "Get the bacon," before I even asked for ordering advice.

This phrase was said to me much like Egan said to Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, "Don't cross the streams." It wasn't a suggestion, or a plea. It was a statement. You must. End of story.

So I did. Order the bacon, that is.

And what arrived was the largest pile of the thickest cut, greasiest and pinkest bacon I had ever seen. The edges were both grissle-y and crispy and there were grill lines horizontally spaced along the length of each strip.

I would guess that each strip was almost 1/2 inch thick, bordered on each side by striated fatty tissue, glistening in its own juices.

I admit to being slightly put off by this most intense presentation of bacon. This was the Everest of bacon mounds, and in that vein, this pile of pork seemed more like a Wonder of the World than something I actually wanted to eat.

But eat it I did. I gingerly speared a strip with my fork and it flopped onto my cocktail plate like a newly caught fish onto the floor of a boat, wiggling a little bit and flapping its ends.

I regarded it. Its length. Its girth. And its smell, which was intense. It was a classic briny, almost pickle-y smell. 

I approached it with caution and my knife. Trying to find an area with the most meat, I carved out a bite and ate it. It was salty – intensely so – and sweet at the same time. The fatty areas (which far outnumbered the meaty ones) where chewy and dense. It almost felt wrong to eat them. Even though it had browned edges, this bacon was not crispy. This was the steak of bacons – not a finger food, thinly cut and crispy, but a slab of meat that required utensils. It was bacon as a main event.

I did not love this steak bacon. It overwhelmed me. While others at the table devoured their slices and came back for more, I couldn't bring myself to finish mine. I prefer my bacon thinly cut and crispy. I like it to complement my meal, not steal the spotlight like Miss Piggy karate-chopping her subordinates.

Now, I'm not a dainty eater. Have you met me? Some of you have. I can eat my meal and yours too. But this was too much for me. Too much in the way that diamond-studded, gold tooth caps are too much bling. It took over everything, including my stomach and had me retaining water for days so that I resembled the meat in its original state.

I still love bacon. But I don't love Luger's version.

Bacon is an overwhelming meat. It's meant to be so. But it can still play nice. It's meant to be the Beaker to the meal's Bunson, the Zuul to Venkman's Dana.

Luger's crossed the streams. And it was bad.

I did manage to visit the restrooms, for your entertainment and edification. They are a typical stall affair with recessed lighting, institutional cream paint and old-school Dial soap:

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