21 February 2014

Bacon Jam

The other week I received a phone call from Andy asking if I had ordered "a large package of meat". I had not. That said, it is not unheard of for me to send such packages to others; my parents have long been fans of the Omaha Steak company and as they are rapidly approaching their 80's, I've long since given up knowing what to get them for birthdays or Christmas, and often find myself turning to meat as an option. Could it be that they were playing the same trick on me?

When I arrived home to inspect said "meat", I found that it was in fact my dear friends, and longtime vegetarians, Erin and Devin, who had sent me the somewhat ironic but also quite welcome gift of three whole pounds of bacon -- cured, uncured, and peppered. Erin has been living in Austin for the past six months and it turns out she was surprised to find Austinites rattling on about Nueske's, a smoked meat company that originates in Erin's very own hometown, clear the opposite end of the country in Wausau Wisconsin.

I found myself a little daunted at the prospect of three whole pounds of bacon, and my arteries seemed to seize up slightly at the site of it. I quickly put two pounds in the freezer and set about thinking of something to do with the pound I had before me. It didn't take long. I'd been wafting over recipes for bacon jam for sometime. This seemed the perfect opportunity to try it out. A quick perusal of the internet showed multiple variations on a theme, mostly involving onions + bacon + dry spices + liquids. The latter two categories varied so much that I determined bacon jam was a fairly forgiving, somewhat generic term. With this information at hand, I threw pretty much everything into my recipe and came up with a rich, dare I say, "complex" tasting condiment. I've since been using it as a snack with crackers (as illustrated below) as an added sandwich condiment, mixed in with scrambled eggs and/or slathered on toast and topped with an egg. One food blogger (sorry, I lost track) suggested swirling some into brownie batter. This is on my list as the recipe below produced two substantial, jam-sized jars of the porky preserves.

Bourbon Bacon Jam    
Adapted from various, including here, here, and here. 

*Nueske's gives a tip on how to cook bacon which I found interesting -- namely, place the bacon in a cold frying pan and start cooking it from cold, rather than heating the pan beforehand. As I'm often the victim of burnt bacon, I found this a useful tip as it forced me to pay more attention to my bacon as it cooked.  
**Last year I purchased a Slow Cooker which has remained the most underutilized appliance in my kitchen ever since, so when I saw various recipes using the slow cooker for part of this recipe, I was all over it. I think the long cooking time gives a more caramelized flavor to the bacon. Directions are given below for both the slow cooker and stove-top method.  

1 pound thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into 1 pieces
1 large sweet onion, cut in half and then in 1/4 thick slices
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup good quality bourbon
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon hot sauce

In a large heavy frying pan or enameled dutch oven, fry the bacon on medium-high until crisp, removing to place on paper-towel lined plate. You may need to do this in 2 batches so as not to crowd the bacon. Place the sliced onions in the pan and cook with the leftover bacon grease, turning the heat down to medium-low. Cook for approximately 10 minutes until the onions are wilty.

Add the sugar, garlic and dry spices (allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, and paprika) and turn up the heat to medium-high, cooking till the spices are fragrant, 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients and return the bacon to the pan, cooking everything for another 2-3 minutes at medium-high (it should be slightly simmering/bubbling).

If using a slow cooker, transfer contents to cooker and cook with the lid off on high for approximately 2-3 hours. Otherwise, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 45 minutes - 1 hour, at a very slow simmer until the majority of the liquid, but not all, has evaporated.

Cool slightly and then transfer to a food processor, (or in batches in a good blender) and pulse until coarsely chopped.

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