Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bakin' Bacon - The Easy Way

While I try not to eat too much of it, I love having bacon in the house. Not only does it function perfectly as a partner to eggs and home fries (or hash browns), but a few slices add a lot to a sandwich or burger. Crumbled, it's the perfect addition to a salad or baked potato.

The problem with bacon is that it's just plain messy and difficult. If you only want one or two slices, you have no way of getting them off of the one-pound brick in your freezer. Plus, after frying-up a batch, you end-up with an inch of grease in a pan and splatters all over the stove that need to be wiped-up. And, your entire house will smell like bacon for a week. Alright. Some people might enjoy that part, but not me.

The solution, for me, is the oven and the freezer. While the oven may not be new news to you, the freezer might be and we'll get to that.

The Oven
The oven is probably the most efficient and clean way to deal with bacon's greasy mess. Completely cover your best half sheet pan with aluminum foil. Pinch any seams together before covering the pan. Place a cooling rack on the pan (the one you use to cool cookies). Lay the bacon out on the cooling rack and cook them in a 350 degree oven until they're crisp. After baking, let the pan sit long enough for the grease to solidify (stick it in the fridge if you're in a rush or it's a hot summer day). Use the foil to wrap-up the grease and toss into the garbage. You should have minimal cleaning to do on the pan itself. The rack, you'll have to scrub a bit but it's a small price to pay for no odor and no grease spatter. If you're a big bacon eater, you can even dedicate a single rack for this purpose and avoid bacon-flavored cookies.

The Freezer
The freezer is where the truly ingenious part comes in, if I do say so myself. Whenever I buy bacon, I usually buy two or more packages. Instead of freezing the raw bacon, I immediately cook it using the oven method described above. Once it has cooled, I take the crispy strips, drop them into a gallon sized zip-top bag and stash them in the freezer. They'll stay fresh and individually frozen for a few months easily. When you want one or two strips for a sandwich, take them out of the bag, wrap them in a paper-towel (burrito-style), and heat them in the microwave on high for one minute. Voila. Instant BLT. Want real bacon bits for your salad or baked potato? Same technique. When they come out of the microwave, let them cool and then snip them with clean scissors or kitchen shears.

Making it Extra-Special
Bacon is pretty fantastic all by itself. However, I learned a trick to make it even better from way too many hours watching FoodTV. Once your bacon starts to crisp, remove it to the oven and "paint" it with maple syrup using a basting brush. Turn each strip and paint the other side. Return it to the oven. When the bacon comes out, paint-on a second coat before serving. Maple and Bacon. A match made in heaven.

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