Two celebrity food show hosts were discussing ways to cook bacon, and the world was listening in. Writer-chef Padma Lakshmi had set the ball rolling by asking what appeared to be a simple question, but clearly wasn’t.
“What is the best way to cook bacon? Oven, microwave, stovetop,” she asked on Twitter a few weeks ago. American celeb chef Alex Guarnaschelli suggested stovetop. “Lay out strips in a single layer. Add ½ inch water to pan. Cook out water and cook till crispy,” she tweeted. Padma Lakshmi’s question prompted more than 6,600 responses, with some urging her to let it stay on the pig.
Bacon, clearly, is a subject that excites passion. Two recent books are dedicated to the pork product, which has even spurred a movement called Bacon Mania. Released in 2021, For the Love of Bacon: The Bacon Cookbook by Nick Price and Bacon Everyday by Rita Rodden have some jaw-dropping recipes such as the one for deep-fried, bacon-wrapped asparagus. Bacon was inspiring as a topic of cooking and writing even back in 1824, when it figured in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, one of America’s first cookbooks.
A place in every cuisine
Books on bacon can line up a roomy library. A particular favourite of mine is The Bacon Bible (2019), written by Chef Peter Sherman with Stephanie Banyas. It includes everything from types of bacon to sauces and dips, from salads to entrées. “Bacon has a place in almost every cuisine. I have tried Cajun and maple bacon, corn cob-smoked and apple cider-flavored, just to name a few. There are hundreds more variations. It is bacon’s simplicity that allows for such an array of flavors,” Sherman writes.
The one book that takes a contrarian stand is Who Poisoned Your Bacon: The Dangerous History of Meat Additives by Guillaume Coudray, published earlier this year. It looks at the meat processing industry and carcinogenic practices such as bacon colouring.
But for bacon lovers, that’s just one more alarmist theory. They would rather go with the character of Burgess Meredith or Grandpa Gustafson from the 1995 film Grumpier Old Men, in which he tells Jack Lemmon the secret of his long life: “Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack? Bacon! A whole damn plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should’ve took a dirt nap like 30 years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I’m still here. Ha! And they keep dyin’. You know?”
He knows what he is talking about. Bacon has been around for centuries and is relished by gourmets and gourmands alike. Emerging several thousand years ago in Chinese kitchens, it has found pride of place not just in cookbooks but also in many websites.
Take ‘A short history of bacon’ in The Spruce Eats, a website devoted to food and recipes. There, food writer Peggy Trowbridge Filippone offers some interesting facts about bacon (“until well into the 16th century, the Middle English term bacon or bacoun referred to all pork in general”). She also recounts an anecdote on the origins of the phrase ‘bringing home the bacon’: “In the 12th century, a church in the English town of Great Dunmow promised a side of bacon to any married man who could swear before the congregation and God that he had not quarrelled with his wife for a year and a day. A husband who could ‘bring home the bacon’ was highly regarded by the community for his forbearance,” she writes.
With the global hysteria over bacon, I am not surprised that there is a World Bacon Day. On September 3, rashers will be sizzling away to glory in kitchens across the world.
And those who follow Padma Lakshmi and Guarnaschelli are going to put it in water, on stovetop.
The writer likes reading and writing about food as much as he does cooking and eating it. Well, almost.