Kicking off Bacon Week, I spent a little time in front of the meat case at my local grocer, trying to see things with fresh eyes. What I saw was choice, and lots of it. There’s Turkey bacon (hardly bacon), smoked bacon, unsmoked bacon, cured and uncured bacon, nitrate-free bacon … it can be a little confusing. So, I asked the good folks at the National Pork Board if they’d provide some bacon guidance, and Cathy Lee Frederickson, their Online Content Manager, was kind enough to do an e-mail interview with The Champagne of Blogs.
The Champagne of Blogs: There’s a lot of terminology at the butcher counter when it comes to bacon. What is bacon exactly?
National Pork Board: The cut used to make bacon comes from the side – or belly – of the pig. When it is cured and smoked, it becomes bacon. An abundance of fat gives bacon its sweet flavor and tender crispiness.
Please note that Canadian bacon is in fact cured pork loin. It is an extremely lean choice, with only 2 grams of fat per slice. The taste and texture of Canadian bacon is similar to ham.
TCOB: What’s the difference between cured and uncured bacon? Smoked/unsmoked?
NPB: Pork belly comes from a hog’s ‘belly’ or underside after the loin and spareribs have been removed. This boneless cut may be served fresh, which means it is not cured or smoked. Pork belly is not widely available in supermarkets, but can be ordered by meatcase managers upon request. Pork belly is at its best and is most tender when prepared using a slow cooking method, such as braising. Pork belly also is a popular menu item among restaurant chefs who appreciate its versatility, flavor and texture.
Bacon is side meat that is cured and smoked.
Pancetta is also cut from the belly – like bacon – but is cured and unsmoked. Pancetta is when pork belly is rubbed with salt or immersed in a brine until the salt completely penetrates the meat. Then the meat is rubbed with aromatic herbs and spices. It is eaten thinly sliced as a cold cut or used to enhance flavor.
TCOB: How long can fresh bacon be kept in the fridge? How long can cooked bacon be kept?
NPB: For packaged bacon, store in the package in the coldest part of the refrigerator at a temperature between 36 and 40 degrees F. Check the freshness date (“open by date”) on the package. Once the package is opened, use within five to seven days.
To freeze bacon, unopened packaged bacon should be stored at 0 degrees F. for up to one month. To store smaller amounts, wrap two to six slices tightly in plastic wrap, then store in small freezer bags. Defrost by submerging the freezer bags in cold water for 10 minutes.
Generally, cooked pork should only be kept in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
TCOB: As you have probably witnessed, bacon has become something of a cultural obsession in the US. Why do you think bacon has achieved such notoriety/infamy/obsession? What has it got that ham/prosciutto/jerky doesn’t?
NPB: I can’t say for sure. In my own personal opinion, because it’s awesome, also I believe Homer Simpson might have something to do with that.
TCOB:What’s the weirdest bacon-related thing you’ve ever seen?
TCOB: This may shock you, but supermarket “Bacon Bits” are actually vegetarian … what’s up with that?
NPB: Stick with the real thing.
TCOB: We will. Of course we will. Thanks for your time, Cathy.