Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Quest 1.5: Baking Bacon

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today, we're playing with everyone's favorite meat: BACON!

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Bacon is the meat of the Gods. It's savory, salty goodness makes me feel like I'm running through a field of poppies under a technicolor sky, hand-in-hand with a tall, dark and handsome...strip of bacon. We gaze longingly at each other, my heart races, palms sweat, we lean in...and then I eat his face. The end.

Bacon has achieved cult-like status in recent years. There are sonnets, toys, flavored popcorn salts, lip balm (because who doesn't want the taste of bacon on their lips ALL the time?!),  cocktails and countless delicious culinary creations featuring our favorite cut of cured pig. Today, I am going to show you my favorite way to cook bacon - in the OVEN! No mess, no stress...just delicious, savory bacon in no time at all! Well, that's not entirely takes about 20 minutes altogether.


1 Package uncooked bacon
Pepper (optional)
Shallow baking sheet
Tin Foil

There are so many reasons baking is my preferred method of cooking bacon. It's easy and clean and any time I don't have to scrub down my stove after a project, I'm a happy girl. Let's all take a brief moment to thank the inventor of the self-cleaning oven. Moving on. When you bake your bacon, something miraculous happens: it doesn't shrink as much! Bacon cooks flat and because heat is being applied uniformly, from all angles, it doesn't do that shriveling thing thus creating the illusion of having more bacon. Also, when cooking bacon on the stove, there is something that comes over all of us; it is the constant need to poke, move, flip, stab or otherwise disturb the bacon cooking process. All that man-handling encourages shrinkage as well. And more bacon, real or imagined, is a good thing in my book!

Preheat Oven to 400°

Choose your bacon! There are so many options for bacon, it can be a little overwhelming. Maplewood smoked, hickory smoked, applewood smoked, thick cut, thin cut...think of it like free love in the 60's; you're a hippie and bacon is your experimental playground. Just be careful, because in this case, high cholesterol is your STD.

Line your baking sheet with tin foil. Make sure you choose a baking sheet with edges, about 1/4 - 1/2 an inch deep is best. The walled edges of the baking sheet will keep the grease from oozing out all over the inside of your oven, thus creating a smoking nightmare of terror and pain. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but self-cleaning ovens won't "self clean" mass amounts of bacon grease and the stench of burning food from inside an oven really is horrific. The tin foil also prevents the bacon from sticking to the baking sheet and makes clean-up SUPER easy.

Arrange your bacon on the lined baking sheet. Try to lay the bacon flat. I find that when I lay the bacon perfectly flat, it shrivels up a little less. And what did we say before? More bacon, real or imagined, is a GOOD thing! Also, make sure you lay out the bacon in a single layer as stacking will result in the fats melting together as the bacon cooks.

It's probably weird that I turned my bacon into little prisoners awaiting execution, right?

Sprinkle lightly with cracked pepper. Cracked pepper is optional at this point but so delicious...if you like pepper. I don't advise adding salt for two reasons: 1) salt speeds cooking time. It doesn't take long to cook bacon in the oven as it is and speeding up the already fast cooking time increases risk of burning. And 2) bacon is already cured in a brine and brine is a solution of salt and water thus making additional salt completely unnecessary.

Cook on the middle rack. It's important that you cook on the middle rack of the oven because this allows the hot air to circulate evenly around the oven.

Set your timer!! Cook for 10-14 minutes! Kitchen timers are your friend. Seriously. It's way too easy to get distracted while you're cooking. I guarantee you are going to surf the internet, watch a movie or tv, play a video game and just forget what time you put your food in the oven. The next thing you know, your food is burned and you're a sad panda.

Thin cut bacon will take around 10 - 12 minutes and thick cut bacon will be 12 - 14 minutes. For crispier bacon, you can add about 2 minutes to your cooking time but you need to keep an eye on it because you can go from perfectly cooked to charred very, very easily.

Carefully remove from the oven with potholders because safety is important, kids!

Immediately transfer cooked bacon to a paper towel lined platter to soak up some of that excess grease.

*TIP This is where a good pair of tongs comes in handy. We'll be talking more about essential tools for the kitchen in a future post but an excellent pair of tongs gives you a lot more control when handling certain foods.

Eat and enjoy!

*Remember to properly store leftover bacon in the refrigerator.

Now there's the question of the grease. Don't throw it away! Bacon grease is flavor! And any Southern cook worth their salt has a mason jar of bacon grease stored in the refrigerator for use in everything from scrambled eggs and biscuits to green beans and even a tiny bit stirred into canned refried beans for a little extra something.

Let the grease cool enough to pour into the jar. Close and refrigerate. Bacon grease can go rancid if left unrefrigerated for too long.

 Hooray! You made bacon! And don't you love the lack of a massive stove-top mess?


+5 Baking

Stay tuned, boys and girls, in future blogs we'll be talking fresh baked bread, gadgets and gizmos from around the web and the WALKING DEAD!

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