by Paula Deen Test Kitchen
Meet a truly southern meat.
It’s tough to beat a BLT. The simple combination of bacon, lettuce, and tomato on a sandwich is pretty close to perfection. Great flavor, great texture, guaranteed to please. The original is a masterpiece, but if you’re feeling adventurous, sweeten the deal with Brown Sugar Bacon.
The key ingredient to a good BLT is the meat with the most attitude—bacon! If you aren’t familiar with the joys of cooking with bacon, then you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd. Stick with us, we’ll show you the ropes.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or hail from north of the Mason-Dixon, you have probably been cooking with bacon since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. Maybe you’ve noticed that food television, magazines, and cookbooks recently picked up on what Southerners have known for years: everything’s better with bacon.
Here’s a little back story on America’s favorite cured meat. Farmers in ancient times discovered that wild pigs, or boars, were easy to tame, and their meat was easy to preserve. Unlike its competitor, beef, pork’s small size made it ideal for preserving on small farms in brining barrels and smoke houses, while its high fat content made it more flavorful and less fibrous than cured beef. Until refrigeration became widely available in the early 1900s, fresh meat was expensive and preserving meat was necessary for all but the wealthy elite. Bacon, the fatty belly of the pig, became a favorite of American average Joes. Originally dry-cured, the more efficient wet-brining process took over after the early 1900s. The advent of refrigeration, efficient slicing, and convenient packing processes led to a boom in the bacon industry. Today, the pork belly is soaked in or injected with brine and smoked. Saltpeter, or potassium nitrate, has been used as a brining agent since the Middle Ages, but today most bacon is processed with the cheaper, more hygienic sodium nitrite. All are naturally occurring chemical compounds. Don’t worry, there won’t be a chemistry quiz at the end!
Until recently, cured pork was never more popular than in the post-Civil War and the Great Depression-Era-South. With no room in the budget to be wasteful, the versatile pig provided many meals with variety and flavor. Southerners cooked pork in some form in most every meal, and the strong smoky flavor of bacon covered many sins of poverty. Leftover breads made sweet and savory puddings like Paula’s Cornbread, Leek and Bacon Pudding. Cooking vegetables a bit past their prime tasted better cooked in bacon grease like Green Beans with New Potatoes. Cheap meats like bacon added protein to carbohydrate-heavy breakfasts like Eggs, Bacon and Skillet Fried Potatoes. Necessity created a cooking style unique to the South. Over time, bacon, and Southern cooking, found its way onto tables across the country.
Today, bacon is everywhere. Whether due to a resurgence of traditional cooking, or a backlash against the flavor lacking low-fat foods flooding grocery stores, bacon is back in a big way. No longer content to sit on the side of a breakfast plate, bacon has moved to the main ingredient in desserts, snacks, and even old favorites like pizza (Scallop and Bacon Pizza), salads (Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing) and pie(Vidalia Onion Pie). All over the country, restaurants, bakeries, and everyday home cooks are getting creative with bacon. Why don’t you buy a pound and fry something new?