Curing meats is an ancient tradition and a practice that allowed people to preserve meats before refrigeration was invented. In addition to changing the flavor profile of the meats in a dramatic and creative way, the technique also enables a cook to use most every part of an animal ensuring that there is no wasted food. Salt, sugar, smoke and controlled humidity over a period of aging, are all ways to preserving meat. Surely bacon is the most popular of all cured meats and for a good reason—it has very complex flavor. Saltiness, smokiness, sweetness, meatiness, and of course, a rich fattiness are what makes bacon so delicious and so versatile. The bacon that most of us know is cut from the belly meat of the pig, into thin strips that have a little more lean meat than fat.
Bacon has a cousin that comes from Italy called “lardo.” Lardo, instead of strips trimmed from the belly meat of the pig, is from the fat of the back of the pig. The process of curing lardo has been made famous in a mountain town in Tuscany called “Colonnata,” and in this episode, I will take you there to witness the extraordinary process of curing this decadent ingredient.
Back in New York, we will visit Le Bernardin’s pastry chef, Michael Laiskonis, who proves that truly everything is better with bacon by teaching us how to integrate savory flavors like bacon, pepper, salt and herbs into his desserts. His technique for making bacon ice cream is intriguing and the idea of opening oneself up to using non-traditional ingredients in a thoughtful way is the beginning of fantastic creations.
I will then take you to my home kitchen where I will show you how to make bacon wrapped pork tenderloin with peas a la Francaise. An ingredient like bacon automatically boosts the flavor of a recipe because of its salty, slightly caramelized flavor, but it also adds important moisture to a cut of meat that is typically not as rich as others. Also, some of the rendered fat from the cooked bacon adds a layer of flavor to the accompanying vegetables. This recipe is simple and only requires a few ingredients so that it is very quick to make at home. Bacon is a key ingredient to many recipes and because of its complexity, elevates almost everything to another level. The flavor is of course important, but its taste and aroma can evoke nostalgia and trigger good memories, and that may certainly be why everything is better with bacon.