Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Make mine a bacon-ista special

Better yet, make it a double!



If you'd known me when I was a thin little strip of a kid you'd have wondered how anyone who ate so much bacon could be so skinny. Maybe it was something in my gene pool — my dad could, and still can, fry up a whole pound of bacon and gobble it down himself, he loves it so much. Whatever it is, I can't get enough bacon.

Back bacon, side bacon, bacon bits (the real thing, not those fakers from a shaker) — doesn't matter, bacon is king.

As a kid I loved it for its great taste and crunch (make mine well done and crispy, s'il vous plaît) and the fact we were allowed to eat side bacon with our fingers. Back bacon, never! Use a knife and fork, kids.

Now as a bigger kid I love it for its transformative powers. Take a humble salad, a baked potato or a big pile of Kraft Dinner, add some cooked bacon, crumbled or in chunks, and you've got yourself something special.

I don't know whether to thank God or the pork producers of North America and their lobbyists, but bacon has been hitting the high road recently, not only in hip-defying desserts but some of the classics as well.

While you can always get a good traditional hit of bacon at Whistler's best brekkie hang-outs, like Wild Wood Restaurant or Southside Diner, bacon is also getting the spotlight in other roles.

On the Victoria Day long weekend, Squamish's Eric Pateman, for one, started featuring 100 per cent Canadian bacon at the take-out window of his righteously popular bistro and boutique, Edible Canada, on Granville Island.

The take-out menu features nothing but four-star classics paying tribute to bacon. There's a West Coast Cobb salad riffing on the original Cobb salad created in the 1930s by owner Robert Howard Cobb or his chef — the story, like most of this ilk, is ambiguous — at the famous Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood. But this West Coast Cobb features blue cheese from Quebec, smoked salmon and bacon rather than Roquefort cheese, cold chicken and avocado.

They've also revisited poutine, the Québécois classic and last year's quintessential Whistler dish as chosen by readers in Pique's annual Best of Whistler round-up. This version features bacon and duck rillette, all-Canadian cheese curds and caramelized onions.

There's an all-beef and bacon whistle dog sporting bacon jam. As for the "dog" itself, it's from Two Rivers Meats, our friends in North Vancouver who are delivering excellent meat products all over the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island thanks to their start-up, which spun out of Pemberton Meadows Beef.

Edible's take-out is also offering crispy fish and bacon tacos — yum! As for the serious bacon buffs out there with the real deep addictions, the box o' bacon features six whole strips, pepper-candied, and served with a rye and chocolate ganache dip. Get two of those suckers, I say.

But it's the BLLT — bacon, lobster, lettuce and tomato sandwich — that Jordan Cash and I are both after.

Jordan is another one of those Torontonians who's found his groove on the West Coast, in this case spinning his unique doughnuts to the world out of his hole-in-the-wall doughnut shop, Cartems Donuterie, at the edgy edge of Carrall and Hastings in Vancouver. Get there early because his maple, bourbon, bacon doughnuts sell out, and no wonder.

These little babies are right up there with pure bacon heaven in my books. Perfectly balanced between savory and not-too-sweet, they weigh about half a pound each.

No, they're not heavy in your stomach — they're heavy with delight and real-food ingredients, starting with Anita's organic flour out of Chilliwack and Rabbit River farm eggs from Richmond then topped off with a good bourbon glaze and big, tasty chunks of double-smoked, candied bacon made right in Jordan's commercial kitchen facility, Woodlands Smokehouse and Commissary, near Commercial Drive.

Have one with a glass of milk and call it the best lunch ever!

"The secret is to use really good bacon. It's not store-bought, it's not packaged, it's organic bacon," says Jordan, who makes the dough, runs the place and still loves to ski and snowboard and get up to Whistler as much as he can. (In fact, he'd love to find an outlet for these babies at Whistler, home of the eternal need for a good-tasting, energy-loaded, ethical quick snack.)

"We smoke it and cure it in-house, so that makes a really, really big difference, and we do use a bit of the bacon fat itself," he says.

On this point we both agree again.

The plusses of cooking with bacon fat are often overlooked. Cook up some onions or hash browns to a golden crispiness in bacon fat — easy perfection. Or instead of drizzling half a fresh tomato with olive oil, sprinkling it with cheese and some tasty herbs and grilling it in your little toaster oven or big granddaddy of an energy-sucking oven, try flipping it cut side down and slow-cooking it in some bacon fat left over from your last bacon bonanza — amazing!

Now you're tapping into a secret that the French and Italian cooks have known about for centuries. Cooking with a soft-textured pork fat like bacon adds both flavour and succulence to just about anything. Good patient chefs will even add thin splinters of pork fat to lean meat by using larding needles.

But the secret to any of this, as Jordan says, is to use really good bacon.

My favourite easy-to-find commercial brand is Harvest bacon out of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, usually available at Nesters Markets. To their credit, Harvest uses absolutely no MSG or those annoying gluten-based fillers in any of their meat products plus they retain more of their original weight when cooked.

If you want to go for a primo version check out Two Rivers bacon, available at North Arm Farm in Pemberton and Big Lou's Butcher Shop on Powell and Gore in Vancouver. At Nita Lake Lodge at Whistler they offer it, too, plus they'll even do the cooking for you and serve it up tout suite.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who reckons the smelling of cooking bacon can wake up the dead, or at least somebody who's pretty out of it.