You’re probably not surprised to hear that truly great bacon is often described as the Magic Johnson of food. Like the charismatic leader of the great mid-80′s Los Angeles Lakers teams, bacon stands alone as a superstar with the ability to bring out the best in surrounding players. A fearsome scoring threat with incredible vision and ball handling skills, Magic would dazzle the opponent while getting quality chances for the talented cast around him. He could draw defenders and then find the open man for an uncontested basket.
At its best, bacon is satisfying to the point of gaining an unfair advantage. The salty-sweet, smoky meat can work as a powerful feature flavor or play a subtler supporting role, inspiring other components to deliver a memorable dish with championship results. My bacon jam is just such a winner. God-food. Great on a burger, toast with a pastured egg or a whisked into a vinaigrette for spinach salad. A trip to heaven without all that hassle of dying first.
Of course you start with the best all-natural, hickory-smoked, farm-raised local bacon from Sunset Farm in Narragansett, RI. Jeff and Susan Farrell raise happy Poland China and Berkshire pigs without the aid of growth hormones. The animals take longer to mature but deliver amazing tasty meat with great muscle tone. The pigs live in large outdoor pens, eating dairy-grade grain and spoiled farm stand produce in season. The belly meat meat is brined, cured without nitrites/nitrates and cold-smoked at Salem Prime Cuts in Connecticut. I heard about bacon jam several weeks ago, made famous by a food truck in Seattle. My friend Gabe and I have been making the recipe our own, perfecting the balance, standardizing means and methods and raising our effort to the level of a repeatable offense.
In the same way that great Thai cooking succeeds using multiple principles collaborating in a sour/sweet/bitter/earth “Gestalt”, our bacon jam’s genius lies in the interplay of salty/sweet/smoky/heat & acid flavors. The resulting harmonic whole resembles a guided meditation exercise. Man-bait in a jar. The bacon is cooked down with its best friend Vidalia onions and garlic. To continue with the Lakers analogy, the smoky salt accenting the bacon is Kareem, the old man in the middle with the patented jump-hook. Sweets from maple syrup and brown sugar are Byron Scott, coming off a pick and draining the open three-pointer. Heat from the ancho and chipotle peppers is a crashing James Worthy, taking a pass in stride for a highlight reel alley-oop. Apple cider vinegar provides the acid and bites you back like “garbageman” Mitch Kupchak or Kurt Rambis coming in for three hard fouls and maybe starting a fight. Earthiness from the half-pot of espresso is Michael Cooper with the bird-like arms, reliable defender harassing the other team’s big man.
Excellence in life results from making a habit of doing lots of small things right. Those Lakers teams went down in the annals of sports history for communication and commitment to a speed transition game. While my chance to join Magic at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA has likely passed me by, there is still hope for a meat condiment in a small brown jar. Taste some at South Kingstown Farmers Market on Saturday.