Is there any better way to start your day than with bacon and eggs? But if this is the only way you think you can get your bacon fix, think again.
From fast food to haute cuisine, bacon is back, diets be damned!
Chefs everywhere are rediscovering a simple fact: If you want to make a dish taste better, add bacon.
Americans go through nearly 2 billion pounds of bacon each year, and lately, it seems there's no end to the ways we'll eat it. Chocolate-covered bacon, anyone?
And in the spirit of total excess, there's Wendy's 'baconator,' a double cheeseburger topped with six strips of you-know-what. Whew!!
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not counting calories, and I'm certainly no fan of those so-called healthy substitutes. For me, it's pure pig or nothing at all.
Which is why I count myself lucky to live just a stone's throw from New York's pantheon of pork: Schaller & Weber.
For most of his life, Ralph Schaller has been slicing and selling all sorts of bacon made by his family.
"This is regular slab bacon," he said, demonstrating his wares. "This is the normal one you'll have for breakfast. This one is double smoked bacon - it's very dark. This takes six hours to smoke. This is black forest bacon. We cook it so you can eat it cold."
With raw materials of this magnitude, there's no limit to what you can do. And that's where Jim Villa comes in.
"We're just on the edge of it; discovering the great world of bacon," he said.
Villas' "Bacon Cookbook" will be published next month. It's filled with recipes that range from guacamole and bacon canapés, to Japanese braised bacon, bacon parmesan biscuits, and for dessert, figs wrapped in bacon with a port wine sauce. Villa believes his book is part of a larger trend.
"We have a lot more conscientious producers today, you know, really turning out fresh great product like we've got here in this store," he said. "I mean quality bacon. And America really should be out there searching for this stuff. And it'll change your life. It will really change your life."
In my restaurant kitchens, we've never been afraid to put bacon front-and-center, from old favorites like shrimp and grits, to our take on Mexican quesadillas, bacon brings harmony to distinct flavors.
But when the workday's done, I have to admit that I'm happy to kick back with something as simple as a classic B.L.T. - or even better, hold the L and the T.
Here is one of Flay's favorite recipes:
From James Villas' The Bacon Cookbook - coming in October from John Wiley & Sons publishers and available for pre-order through Amazon.
Bacon-Wrapped Figs Stuffed With Almonds In Port
12 fresh firm-ripe figs
1 cup Port wine
1 tablespoon minced orange zest
12 toasted almonds
6 slices lean applewood-smoked bacon, cut in half
Makes 4 servings - serve with crisp butter cookies, if desired.
Recipe: Copyright 2007 by James Villas, All Rights Reserved