Friday, April 23, 2010

BrunchItYourself: Baaacon Jam!


(This BrunchItYourself Post is brought to you by Emily. Melissa served as Taste Tester and Photo Snapper. However, she tasted too much before she remembered to snap photos.)

Wait, what, bacon jam?! Yes, it exists. Yes, you can make it at home, easily. And yes, it is delicious. [No offense to any non-pork eaters out there.] A little like spreadable gold, it's an item that is a bit expensive to make but worth every penny. Actually, let me clarify - the main expense in this recipe is the bacon itself. Personally, we babes enjoy the Niman Ranch bacon that can easily be found at Trader Joe's. The price is a reasonable middle ground between your Hormel bacon and your deliciously house-smoked The Meat Hook slab bacon.

But where does this small obsession begin? One fateful night, I had a book club-dinner with two fabulous friends at Village Tart. The side of Brussels sprouts with bacon jam called out to me even before a friend insisted we get them, as she had dined there before and loved the dish. All three of us ordered this side and it was love at first bite. From there, my brain was stuck on the idea of not even replicating the dish as much as the bacon jam. A big BrunchIN seemed like the perfect place to debut my attempt.

Google gave me a few starter recipes, and with the help of my crockpot, the bacon jam comes together easily, with patience in the slow cooker time.

Your New Favorite Thing to Spread on Everything (AKA Bacon Jam)

2 pounds bacon, sliced
5 yellow onions, julienned
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup maple syrup
hearty pinches of:
paprika (hot or sweet Hungarian is fine)
red pepper flakes
cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
freshly ground black pepper
optional: 1/2-2 tsp vanilla extract (see Note)

Before slicing onions and bacon, set your slow cooker on high (basically preheating it). I used a 5-6 quart one, room to spare in the pot is fine. Dump the bacon and onions into a crockpot (I used a larger 5-6 quart one) once chopped. Let these cook on high for about two hours, and then add in the spices, vinegar and maple. My recommendation is to continue to cook on high, watching the crockpot every four hours. If need be, turn down to low. Let cook for a minimum of 12 hours. You're basically looking for a deeeeep dark brown color without full-on burning it.

Once cooked, let cool slightly and drain the mixture. Reserve the fat and 'juices' and blend the mixture slightly. I recommend using an immersion blender for ease, but a blender or food processor works as well. I prefer the jam still a bit chunky and 'rustic' but pureed enough to spread easily. Add some of the liquid back as needed to get it to the consistency you prefer.

Now time for tweaking. Taste the bacon jam. Additional maple, vinegar, some salt or any of the spices is fine to add. Basically, you want to ensure the flavors are "bright", especially after cooking for so long. The jam should have a tang, a sweetness and the obvious bacon flavor.

Note: I highly recommend adding vanilla at the very end of the process. While making the bacon jam for the Brunch Experiment, we discovered that the addition of vanilla calmed down the obvious savory factor of the jam. It does not scream vanilla, but simply balances things out. Take out one spoonful of jam. In the rest of it, mix in 1/2 tsp to start. Taste some of the un-vanilla-ed spoonful and then the big batch. If the change in flavor isn't obvious, add another 1/4-1/2 tsp and taste test again. There is a point in the vanilla addition that your taste buds will be able to tell an obvious, positive difference.

Serving Suggestions: As mentioned, you can spread this on anything. But one combination my friends and I can highly recommend is on a cracker with goat cheese and honey. It is a fantastic appetizer combination, and translates well to bread pudding as well. Mix into roasted Brussels sprouts! Put it on a burger or sandwich. The options are endless, but I guarantee that if you bring bacon jam to any event, you won't have problems getting rid of it. We served this as part of our Babe's Bread Pudding at the recent BrunchBattle: The Brooklyn Brunch Experiment, and got raised eyebrows and subsequent nods of approval. 

If you enjoyed this recipe, let us know in the comments what your own results were, along with any comments or requests for future BrunchItYourself posts. Thanks, and happy brunching!