Thanks to specialty producers, bacon is making a culinary comeback, says author Sara Perry.
Today's gourmet products contain no nitrites and less watery brines — resulting in bacon that's leaner, meatier and, most of all, tastier, Perry says.
The main focus of her book, "Everything Tastes Better With Bacon" (Chronicle Books, 132 pages, softbound, $18.95), is the flavoring power of salted and smoked pork.
"Fat carries flavor to our taste buds," she writes. "It's chewy and crunchy. Savory. Slightly sweet. And habit-forming."
She starts her book with a paean to pork and bits of bacon lore, from the origins of the phrase "bringing home the bacon" to types of bacon and how to cook and store it.
Recipes lead with breakfast dishes such as Sweetie-Pie Pancakes With Brown Sugar, Apples and Bacon; Hangtown Fry, the classic combination of oysters, bacon and eggs; and Bacon and Eggs Rancheros, which satisfies the need for a spicy start to the day by using bacon crusted with coarse-ground black pepper instead of the traditional chorizo.
Subsequent chapters cover salads ("Fresh Greens and Crispy Things"); pasta, polenta and risotto with bacon; side dishes and vegetables; appetizers; party fare (which she calls "lusty antidotes to life in the no-fun lane"); and even sweets.
In the chapter "Livin' High on the Hog," Perry has fun with unusual desserts such as a maple-bacon ice-cream sundae, Pear-Apple Crisp With Brown Sugar-Bacon Topping and — no kidding — Try-It-You'll-Like-It Bacon Brittle. The latter caught my eye. I'd never made candy with meat before.
Bacon bits and chopped pecans studded the light, golden brittle (think of a honey-baked ham crust, only crunchier). On Day One, it was OK, but by the end of Day Two, the bacon flavor overpowered the other ingredients. Rather than mix the leftover brittle in a batter for peanut-butter cookies (as Perry suggests), I chopped it into slivers and tossed it into a salad of baby spinach and sliced Granny Smith apples. It made a sweet, crispy, meaty contrast to the greens.
Perry offers a list of resources for the cook, including mail-order sources. There's even a bacon-of-the-month club, www.gratefulpalate.com.
However, some noteworthy bacon producers are not listed, such as Carlton Packing Co. of Oregon, Niman Schell Ranch in Iowa and New Braunfels Smokehouse in Texas.