Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Culinary Smackdown: Battle Bacon
My friend Cindie’s mantra this summer has been the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle. But sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.
When Grumpy Granny announced bacon as the theme for the August Culinary Smackdown, Cindie decided we should do a bacon tasting. Cindie selected three of local fave Eckerlin’s bacon varieties and had me make little signs for them, insisting my handwriting is better than hers (when you've been friends as many decades as we have, you learn to roll with it).
First up, the applewood-smoked bacon.
When it came out of the oven, Cindie tried to make the number “1” out of toothpicks.
Next, the double-smoked bacon.
Aggravated with trying to make the number “2” out of toothpicks when it came out of the oven, Cindie resorted to a Roman numeral II out of basil stems.
Here's the one we saved for #3, Eckerlin’s hickory-smoked bacon.
By the time it came out of the oven, I convinced Cindie to quit worrying about numerals.
Results of our at-home taste test experiment? We both liked the way the bacon turned out baking it on a rack in the oven instead of frying it. Neither of us could pick up much apple or applewood taste in the bacon smoked that way, and thought it was saltiest of the three. We liked the double-smoked bacon better and it had a firmer texture to it (Cindie had also asked for it to be cut thicker). Our unanimous favorite was the hickory-smoked bacon. Which is what the guy who waited on Cindie on our previous trip to Eckerlin’s said was his personal favorite. Once again, it pays to ask vendors what they recommend.
Regardless of KISS, Cindie has made a pie or cobbler every time we’ve cooked together this summer. I peeled and cut the apples while she made the crust and a streusel topping she added later to this one.
For hors d’oeuvres, Cindie had in mind to reprise my Rumaki recipe, which we made earlier this season: Marinated Chicken Livers and Water Chestnuts Wrapped in Bacon. Thinner works better than thick-cut bacon for this application, although I struggled with some (not from Eckerlin’s) that was so thin it frayed apart and was tricky to secure with a toothpick.
If you’d like to try our version of Rumaki, we used a pint of chicken livers, a 5-ounce can of water chestnuts, rinsed (which wasn’t quite enough to match the amount of chicken livers we had, although two cans would have been too much), and however many half-slices of bacon it took to wrap them in after we marinated the chicken livers and water chestnuts in 1/2 cup soy sauce mixed with 4 tablespoons sugar. The marinade is one I use for bacon-wrapped water chestnuts without chicken livers, a much lighter bite. (Half as much marinade will be plenty for a can of water chestnuts if you go that route.) Ginger can be a nice addition too.
You can bake these puppies, but you’ll need to turn them. We found it easier to turn them and attend to even bacon cooking by frying them either on top of the stove or in an electric skillet. Look at Cindie’s tongs-wielding, rumaki-turning fingers fly!
As another supposed appetizer, we opted for classically simple bacon-wrapped scallops. I kept warning Cindie both apps would be rich and filling and finally talked her down to only nine of these lovely 10-20 count sea scallops from Luken’s at Findlay Market (they have larger ones too – this one just looks as large as it does because I biggified one of my best photos from the weekend).
Yep, I was right. We ended up with 3 or 4 appetizer platters like these (minus the mayo dipping sauce, which was actually intended for our main course/Smackdown entry). Luckily a couple of Cindie's husband’s friends stopped by and helped eat them.
While the men ate and shot the breeze outside on the deck, Cindie and I were glued to Hurricane Irene coverage inside on the TV. Our rich “snacks,” not to mention our early morning at Findlay Market and an ample lunch on the way home, caught up with us. We were both too full to eat our Smackdown dish that night, or, alas, that pie.
But I was not going home Sunday without photos of our entry – or tasting it. So here’s what I had for breakfast, er, brunch.
A couple of toasted slices of Blue Oven bread:
Some of these gorgeous red and yellow heirloom tomatoes Cindie picked at a friend’s:
And, of course, bacon. Plus some Romaine and leaf lettuce we picked up Saturday morning from one of the farmers at Findlay (barely visible here). I tried fancifying it a bit with Pimente d’Espelette in the mayo (I failed to add enough to store-bought mayonnaise for it to be a noticeable difference), and adding some fresh basil. I love the summertime combination of fresh tomatoes and basil so much that its addition worked for me.
Verdict? No need to mess around with a BLT when you have perfectly ripe home-grown tomatoes. They were unquestionably the star of this sandwich, although the rest of it was pretty darn good too. And as much as I enjoyed the ciabatta-style Tortano loaf I purchased from Blue Oven, you get more surface area – aka more room for bacon – when you keep it old-school like Cindie’s husband Odie did with his.
For much more innovative Battle Bacon entries, head on over to Grumpy Granny’s, where her own post as this month’s host (and last month’s winner) features a dish that will have you salivating (even if you’re vegetarian or have a sweet tooth) and you can find your way to the other Smackdown entries in the comments, which keep rolling in.
Ran out of time to participate this month? Got caught up in a hurricane frenzy or other real-world concerns? No problem. If you have power or are online in some fashion, you can still join in the fun and support the revival of this little thing we call the Culinary Smackdown by checking out the submissions, commenting if you choose, and staying tuned for where the Smackdown will go in September.