Thinking outside the sandwich with bacon

When discussing meat with vegetarians (I’m nothing if not sensitive) there’s always one variety most of them still find tempting: bacon. And for people in the UK as a whole, their first thought is The Bacon Sandwich.

Because of this ‘junk’ rendition – and its reputation for high fat and salt – bacon is automatically assumed these days to be a one-dimensionally naughty treat. But actually, the bread part of the treat is the main problem. Bread is one of the most addictive foods known to Man: and the moreish feeling one gets after the first bacon sarny invariably leads to a second one when, let’s face it, it seems churlish not to whack lots of bacon in that one too.

There is actually a lot more to bacon than this. It’s highly nutritious and, while it isn’t recommended for anyone in possession of a blood pressure problem, it can go one heck of a long way, have its fat vastly reduced….and make ordinary things into supper party talking points.

A lot of cheap bacon today is full of water to bulk out the weight, and can be tasteless apart from overwhelming saltiness. But it’s this very cheap stuff I’m going to recommend.

Producing bacon is quite wasteful, and in recent years several makers have hit on the idea of ‘bacon misshapes’. Oddly enough, not many supermarkets sell them, but most convenience stores and small local shops do. You can get half a kilo of this stuff for around £2. If you’re lucky enough to have a local independent butcher who knows what he’s doing, you could probably negotiate a similar deal from him for his offcuts.

It’s crap for traditional bacon sandwiches – too thick and irregular – but then it wouldn’t taste nice in that context anyway. This is what yer do.

Take a large saucepan, put it over a lowish light, bung the entire contents in there, and put the lid on. After about 15 minutes, you’ll find the bacon swimming in its own juices. Keep draining the liquid off into a container: you’ll be needing it later. When the liquid is nearly gone, empty the meat onto a flat roasting pan (or baking tray) and pop into the mid-height of a medium temperature oven. Cook it to the nearly-crispy stage, take out and cool. Pick at some of it. (That’s not an instruction, more what I’d call a certainty).

Once cool, take off any excess crispy fat (or don’t, depending on your need for dangerous hedonism) and chop the bacon into small squares. Set some aside for immediate requirements if you have any. Otherwise, put the bacon bits into a freezer box (I use cleaned old Clover packs), and mark it ‘bacon bits’ as a memory aid for when you reach in there three weeks later and wonder WTF it is.

Put the cooled liquids into the fridge. Next day, all the fat will have formed on the top, rock-hard, and be very easy to clip off and discard. What’s left is a jelly of salty intensity with about a million uses. With imagination and some help from Tim Geithner, you could leverage that into a trillion at least.

By and large, this is what I find your meagre investment can deliver:

A spaghetti carbonara’s bacon contents to feed six. (Supermarket chilled sauces are often abundant in the Reduced to Clear racks, especially on Sunday afternoons. They really have to go, so picking one up for 90p is not uncommon.)

The bacon bits for at least three large avacado, lettuce, chicken and tomato salads.

Enough bacon for four omelettes.

A delicious addition to a huge potato casserole on wintry nights with a large glass of beefy wine and lashings of chicken gravy with oh my God I got carried away, sorry.

Now for the salt jelly. You can keep this for quite a few days in the fridge, but it’s not like duck fat that lasts forever. I use it as a flavouring, or for preserving fish.

Add it to savoury boiled rice in the last few minutes of cooking time.

Use it as a braising medium for fillets of sea bass. (Fish too is another great bargain in reduced to clear: four bass fillets last Monday bank holiday evening for £1.30).

Take some haddock, pop it in a small freezer bag, add the salt jelly, slosh it all around in there, bung it in the freezer for a week or two. Take it out, and the next time you’re using rice as a carbohydrate, bung the salt fish on top once the rice is drying out. It salts the rice in an entirely different way (less intense) but makes the whole taste delicious with jumbo prawns stir-fried in sliced green beans.

Use it instead of anchovies to add richness to beef casseroles on wintry nights with a vat of Rioja and Guinness gravy plus sorry, sorry.Calm down Ward, calm down.

So there you are. All that taste experience for two quid. Ingenuity can be fun. You know it makes sense. Eatapoundaporkaday. Do try this at home.