By JIM WILLIS
No food is more debased than bacon. Certainly other food crimes abound: eggs are regularly subject to the atrocity of having their yolks forcibly removed before being whipped into the horror known as an egg-white omelet, or an enterprising chef may serve a mid-winter Caprese salad with a mealy, flavorless, pink imposter of a tomato.
But bacon — mankind’s crowing alchemic achievement of pig and smoke; indeed our pinnacle of pork preservation — is subject to a constellation of abuses on flagrant display at grocery stores on the Green and beyond.
Refrigerator cases scream with nightmares like “turkey bacon” or “pre-cooked bacon” (which frankly sounds like an Orwellian conceit to save us from the “trouble” of making bacon — these same hucksters are no doubt working on a way to bring babies into the world without the “trouble” of sex.)
Of paramount importance when it comes to slab bacon is the ability to get it custom-sliced to your desired thickness: thin for the pan, thick for the grill. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)
Visit a particular high-end grocery store and you’ll have the opportunity to be suckered into buying “nitrate-free” bacon. This sliced pork goo is hardly redolent of real bacon, and thanks to the massive amounts of nitrates released during the curing process from the celery used in manufacturing process, it ends up containing far more nitrates than bacon that has been cured the traditional way.
Thankfully, here on the Green it’s easy to avoid trafficking in counterfeit bacon: simply see one of our area butchers. They will be happy to slice you some real, slab bacon.
“Real bacon is smoked,” says Ralph Citarella of Citarella’s Market in Red Bank. “Some of the pre-packaged sliced bacon is just injected with smoke flavoring.”
And indeed, that satisfying smokey aroma is one of the first things people who buy bacon from a butcher will notice once they get home to fry it up.
Sliced-to-order, slab bacon from a butcher may run you a bit more ($6 to $12 per pound around the Green, versus $4 to $8 for sliced, packaged bacon at the grocery) but it goes a lot farther.
“Packaged commerical bacon has a lot more fat and a more salt to keep it fresh because it’s vacuum-packed” says Stew Goldstein of Monmouth Meats, also in Red Bank. As a result, he says, packaged bacon shrinks up a lot when you cook it; not so with real bacon.
Both butchers agree that being able to order the bacon sliced to whatever thickness you like is paramount. Meaning, a few thin slices for the pan and a few thicker slices for the grill is no problem.
There are entire swaths of the United States population with no choice but to buy prepackaged bacon because they have no access to real butchers. Here on the Green we have options, and PieHole just wants to kindly suggest that we support our butchers and stop the crimes against bacon.