An Expats Journey in Bacon
I moved to Canada almost 5 years ago now and, as strange as it may sound to North American bacon lovers, I was amazed to find that bacon was nigh impossible to find. I began by going to a supermarket and buying some “bacon” as I would back home in Scotland and two things struck me.
- There was only streaky bacon
- There was no unsmoked bacon
These weren’t the biggest deal in the world to me and despite the fact that what I ended up with seemed to be way more fat than meat I went home “baconed”. When I got home I was cooking a risotto and I threw some into the pan with some onions and to my dismay watched a weird white foam engulf the pan, which I was then told was called “bacon grease”. What was in the pan was upsetting to someone who cooks with a lot of bacon, so I assumed that I had just bought bad bacon and I shouldn’t buy from supermarkets and instead went to the butcher.
Home I came with some “organic, hormone and antibiotic free double smoked maple bacon” from one of the best butchers in Toronto…and again it was terrible. All the same things happened, sure the meat was better quality but more weird foaming and greasy fatty messes in the pan. At least this stuff was passable on a bacon butty, if again still mostly fat. This process went on for almost 2 years before finally I accepted that it just wasn’t happening and bacon was reserved for trips out of North America (I might add that bacon in France, Germany, Spain and even Thailand have all lived up to my exacting standards).
So just so we know what we are comparing here, in the UK we have two types of bacon. Rashers and streaky bacon but for now I’m only going to compare streaky bacon as rashers are something for another day.
They look pretty similar but the Canadian one always had a very orange rim and generally almost twice as much fat as I was used to. Doesn’t seem that this difference would make that much of a difference to the final product. What really got me thinking though was the lack of unsmoked bacon. When I brought it up in a butchers, they asked if I meant pork belly! I had to explain that for us bacon doesn’t have to be smoked, it can be cured in the same way and then sold either smoked or unsmoked. To which he replied “how do they bring it up to temperature then?”
This was the breakthrough I had been looking for the whole time. It turns out that bacon in North America is almost universally hot smoked, that is smoked over heat and brought to a safe temperature. Essentially it is cooked before you buy it. That is not the case back home, we use cold smoke. Now that wouldn’t seem be too much of a difference but it is huge. The first thing I realised is that fat renders at a temperature far below the temperature designated as “safe” for pork products, off the top of my head it renders around 130F but the meat must be brought to above 145F (usually 150–160F for commercial products) .
This means that even if you get the best bacon, it’s a completely different product to what I would be expecting. Another day I’ll talk about my own bacon curing experiences but for now I will just say this. I am not a food scientist so my method of testing was to cure a piece of belly, cut it in half and hot smoke one half and cold smoke the other. Lo and behold, the cold smoked bacon produced no weird foaminess the hot smoked produced a bunch (although I also used more labour intensive curing methods so there was much less). I managed to work out the biggest part of why bacon was so different!
Now next time I will talk about the next missing piece in my bacon adventure. Why does the most common type of bacon, rashers, not exist?