Bring on the Bacon
What is it about bacon that tastes so amazing? It’s salty, crunchy, and utterly sinful. And in recent years, it has been elevated to cult status. Consider the facts. Americans eat almost 18 pounds of bacon a year. A survey by Maple Leaf Foods said that 43 percent of people would rather eat bacon than have sex. There’s even a book called Bacon: A Love Story that the author describes as a love letter to the "best meat ever." So in honor of this fine food, we asked some of the chefs at The Shops at Columbus Circle to tell us what they love about it and to share their favorite recipes for dishes that celebrate bacon.
According to Michael Lomonaco (top photo), Chef and Managing Partner at Porter House Bar and Grill, one of the restaurant’s most popular side dishes is creamed spinach with bacon. "The bacon transforms a crowd favorite into an unforgettable new dish," he says. "It is smoky and sweet with the best bacon you can find."
For Landmarc Chef Marc Murphy (second photo), the housemade ricotta cavatelli with chicken liver, caramelized onion, and bacon is the star of the show. "What’s not to love," Murphy says. "Bacon is extremely versatile and an ingredient that packs a lot of flavor!"
Michael DeCicco, Chef de Cuisine at Bouchon Bakery, layers goodness on top of goodness in a bacon-wrapped pâté. "It’s one of my favorite uses," he says. "The bacon is used to wrap the pâté itself. It has quite a bit of history within our restaurant group and is featured in the Bouchon cookbook."
Porter House Bar and Grill Creamed Spinach with Bacon
Serves 4 as a side dish
4 ounces sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
4 to 6 cups fresh spinach leaves, well washed in several changes of cold water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup heavy cream
Several scrapes freshly grated nutmeg
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat a nonstick sauté pan over low heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, approximately 8 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Once cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon into small bits and set aside. Reserve the bacon fat.
2. Put 2 inches of water in a vegetable steamer and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the spinach leaves to the steamer basket, cover, and steam until cooked, approximately 2 minutes.
3. Transfer the spinach to a colander to drain and let the spinach cool slightly.
4. Put the butter and 2 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat it over medium-high heat until it melts and begins to bubble. Whisk the flour into the butter and cook together for 2 to 3 minutes.
5. In a separate pot, heat the cream until steaming but not boiling.
6. Whisk the cream into the flour-butter mixture and bring it to a boil over high heat. Immediately lower the heat and let simmer until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.
7. Add the spinach to the cream and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few scrapes of nutmeg, and stir in the bacon.
8. Transfer the creamed spinach to a serving bowl and serve hot.
Landmarc Housemade Ricotta Cavatelli with Chicken Liver, Caramelized Onion, and Bacon
1 pound cavatelli (hand made or store-bought malloreddus)
3 cups all-purpose flour (about 1 pound), divided
1 pound ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
9 ounces slab bacon, cut into medium cubes
1 medium Spanish onion, medium dice (about 1 cup)
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
¾ pound chicken livers, washed and cleaned (about 2 cups)
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated and divided
¼ pound butter, unsalted (or 1 stick)
½ sprig fresh rosemary, minced (about 1 ½ tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
*special equipment: hand-cranked cavatelli maker
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil (if purchasing pasta skip to step 5)
2. If making your own cavatelli, place 2 ½ cups of the flour into a bowl, make a well in the flour and add cheese and eggs. Gradually work the mixture together, adding more flour if necessary, to make a soft but not sticky dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it is smooth. Let the dough rest at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for 30 minutes.
3. Form the dough into a round and cut into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time (cover the remaining dough with plastic to keep from drying out), on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rope 1/4 inch in diameter. (At this point you can feed the rope into a hand crank powered cavatelli maker if you have one.)
4. Alternatively, with a knife, cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces. With your index and third fingers held together, gently press down on each piece, beginning at the top and moving down toward the bottom, dragging your fingers toward you and causing the pasta to roll over on itself. Transfer the formed pasta to a lightly floured cookie sheet and let dry at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
5. In a large skillet, add olive oil and bacon over medium high heat to render and crisp the bacon, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Then add onions and garlic. Sauté for another 4 to 5 minutes.
6. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to the directions on the box or until it starts to float (about 8 to 10 minutes). Add livers to the skillet and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Then add the butter, sherry vinegar, about a cup of reserved pasta water, and pasta.
7. Over high heat, stir constantly to reduce and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. Add half of the parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste. If sauce is too thick, adjust consistency with some pasta cooking water. Divide among 4 bowls and top with remaining parmesan.
Bouchon Bakery Rabbit Pâté
Serves 20; excerpted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books; 2004)
Photo by Deborah Jones
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pink salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mixed thyme
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons black peppercorn
3 bay leaves
13 ounces rabbit meat (from 1 whole rabbit or 3 to 4 legs)
1 ¼ pounds chicken livers
9 ounces (8 or 9 slices) white bread
1 ¼ cups milk
5 bay leaves
1 ¼ pounds thinly sliced slab bacon
9 ounces fresh unsalted pork fatback, cut into 1-inch cubes
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
For the spice mixture
1. For the spice mixture: Grind the salts, thyme, nutmeg, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a coffee or spice grinder. Set aside.
For the pâté
1. Cut the rabbit into 1-inch cubes (You should have about 1 ¾ cups.) Place in a medium bowl. Clean any fat, sinew, or dark spots from the livers. Add to the rabbit, then add the ground spices and toss well, being sure to coat the rabbit and livers evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours.
2. About 30 minutes before grinding the meat, remove the crusts from the bread and tear the bread into pieces no more than an inch across. Place in a medium bowl, add the milk, and set aside to soak.
3. Brush a 12 ½-by-4 ½-by-3-inch-high lidded terrine with a light coating of oil. Line the terrine with plastic wrap, leaving about a 6-inch overhang on all four sides. Arrange the 5 bay leaves in a line down the bottom of the terrine (this will be the presentation side of the terrine).
4. Line the terrine with the bacon slices, beginning with one end of a bacon slice just slightly past center and the opposite end overhanging the side of the terrine. Continue working around the terrine, overlapping the slices by 1/8 inch; they shouldn’t overlap by much more or the bacon will be too thick. The ends of the bacon that overlap in the center of the terrine should overlap by about ¼ inch. If necessary, use scissors to trim the bacon so that the overhang is 3 inches. Place the terrine in a deep roasting pan that is at least three-quarters of the height of the terrine.
5. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
6. Fit a meat grinder with a large-holed die. (Be sure that it is bolted securely.) Place a stainless steel bowl set in a bowl of ice under the grinder to catch the ground mixture. First grind the marinated meat mixture, then grind the bread and milk mixture into the bowl. Mix the meat and bread together and transfer to another bowl. Return the first bowl to the ice.
7. Change the grinder die to the smaller one and grind the mixture a second time. Then run the fatback through the grinder into the bowl. To clean any mixture trapped in the grinder, cut a piece of plastic wrap 3 to 4 inches square and run it into the machine. Once it pushes out any remaining mixture, stop the grinder. (You can remove the plastic wrap when you clean the machine.)
8. Mix the egg yolks and cognac together in a small bowl, then stir into the pâté with a rubber spatula, making certain that the fat is evenly distributed throughout.
9. Pack the mixture into the terrine, being careful to avoid air pockets, especially in the corners. Fold the bacon over the terrine, beginning at the two short ends. Then use one side of the plastic wrap to lift one long side of the strips of bacon over to the center. Lift up the plastic wrap and repeat with the second side, then cover the top with the plastic wrap and the lid. Place the terrine in a roasting pan.
10. Add enough water to the roasting pan to come about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the terrine. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours, or until the center of the terrine registers at 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. (The lid of most terrines has a hole through which you can place a thermometer.) Remove the roasting pan from the oven and then the terrine from the pan; place on a cooling rack set over a small backing sheet (to catch the fat later). Let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
11. Cut a piece of cardboard to fit over the surface of the pâté and wrap the cardboard in aluminum foil. Puncture the plastic wrap at each end of the terrine and tilt the terrine at each end to drain any fat. Place the cardboard on the terrine and top with several heavy weights, such as clean bricks. (If the weights are resting on the sides of the terrine, add an additional layer or more of cardboard so the weights are sitting on the cardboard, not on the rim of the terrine, so they can compress the pâté.)
12. Refrigerate the weighted pâté for 24 hours.
1. Remove the weights and cardboard from the terrine. Lift up the pâté with the overhang of plastic wrap to release it from the mold, then replate it in the terrine. (If the pâté doesn’t release, fill the sink or other large container with warm water and dip the terrine in just long enough to soften the fat and release the pâté.) Carefully run a knife around the edges of the pâté and invert it onto a cutting board. Cut into ½-inch-thick slices.
2. Serve with a pot of Dijon mustard, cornichons, radishes, fleur de sel, and round pepper.