Well hey there, hi there, ho there! This is Kitchen Catastrophes, I’m Jon O’Guin, and I have no idea if writing this post right now is the BEST idea, but it’s what I’ve got, so it’s what I’ll do. Today’s post is of a recipe I knocked out for a Thanksgiving cheese board, being written while I’m on kinda hopped up on painkillers! Why? Let’s FIND OUT
I Wanna Know, Have you Ever Felt The Pain?
CCR are so great. Right? Glad we agree. Anyway: basically, why I’m on painkillers is a simple explanation: I’m kinda dumb. While this may shock you, reader of a website dedicated to many culinary mistakes and failures, I assure you, for all my education and knowledge, I’m capable of simply staggering moments of lack of common sense. I have, on multiple occasions, reached into 200, 300 degree ovens and pulled out skillets without any protection on my hands. As my grandfather used to say “Life’s hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.”
So what particular brand of idiocy did I injure myself with at present? Well, I went back to Leavenworth to work the holiday rush, and discovered that my friend and Head Otaku for the site, Joe Seguin, had recently become a vegan. This was a grievous blow to me, as it meant I was now the only “Normal” eater in my male friend group: Alan’s body is a series of haphazardly placed switches ready to destroy him, Glen is on a diet constructed via a series of runes from a man who holds a World Record in Argentine Tango, JJ subsists solely on Red Beans and Rice in an effort to raise awareness of the plight in Puerto Rico, and now this. The fact that I am also the fattest member of my male friend group is presumably a red herring, a la Communism.
To protest this indignity, I bought $30 worth of salty processed meat snacks, and ate them over 3 days, while drinking, in the dry, cold mountain air. At which point my body went, “Hey, Jon? Remember how we have a personal AND family history of kidney stones? A history we know is exacerbated by poor hydration, and results in ‘you had to go to the ER because of the pain’ levels of suffering and education?” And I said, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH” because I was folded in half in agony.
Luckily, that was…20 hours ago at the time of writing this, and I’m hopeful that I’ve moved past that silly mistake. I’m most hopeful because I was bedridden most of the day, so if I haven’t passed the stone, my meds are gonna run out about an hour before the pharmacy opens, which will be...a musical period.
As in the famous Edvard Munch painting "The Song". Pretty sure that was its name.
But, whether it comes to that or not, you all still need posts to feed your unending thirst for knowledge! And today’s recipe is one that’s been bouncing on the periphery of my life for some time, so let’s drag it into the light, and pick it apart. This is Bacon Jam.
Bringin’ Home The Bacon
Now, if you’re like me, the words “Bacon Jam” weren’t in your lexicon until fairly recently. And Google backs me up on this: before 2009, the phrase was essentially unused. Supposedly, the reason for the sudden change can be traced back to one man: Josh Henderson. A man with a degree in Music, and several eclectic jobs in various food enterprises, Josh opened a Seattle food truck in 2007 named “Skillet Street Foods”, with one of his first offerings being beef burgers with “bacon jam”.
This spread among food bloggers for a few years before blowing up with a feature in Real Simple magazine in 2010. And seriously, it EXPLODED. Martha Stewart had a recipe for the stuff out that December as well. Since then, the term has been be-bopping around, growing in trends every year, with a notable spike in December. So what is this mystery meat marmalade, and how can you make it? Glad you asked!
Step 1: Get Bacon. Duh.
Bacon Jam is, basically, an updated form of potted meat, an old system of preserving meat before refrigeration. You’d cook the meat, place it in a jar or pot while still hot, and then cover it in fat. The fat would harden when it cooled, creating a ‘lid’ over the meat, and letting it remain fresh for much longer. Many recipes would use components intended to increase preserving power: things like vinegar, minced onion, salt, and sugar (in essence ‘brining’ the meat beneath the fat cap). In the modern era of refrigeration, we have less need of such things, so we can remove the components dedicated solely to that, and focus on what really matters: SPAM. Wait, no. Sorry, “potted meat food product” is another product that’s basically SPAM. No, now we can focus on FLAVOR.
Bacon Jam takes the same basic components, and pumps them into a flavor bomb: bacon, obviously. Combine that with apple cider vinegar (Apples are a common flavor pairing with pork products), brown sugar (common with both bacon AND apples), and a veritable spree of breakfast products: coffee, maple syrup, and garlic. What, you DON’T eat raw Garlic for breakfast? Pfft. Alright, scrub. Let me know how shit goes when Dracula bites your ass. What’s that? You think you’re safe because you eat Breakfast before the DAY? Joke’s on you, dummy! Vampires weren’t mortally vulnerable to sunlight until the FILM era! Dracula is met MULTIPLE TIMES in daylight! THE SUN CAN’T SAVE YOU FROM THEIR FANGS.
ONLY SEASON THREE OF HANNIBAL CAN SAVE US!
Warnings against beasts of the night (and sometimes day) aside, this recipe is kind of courtesy of Martha Stewart. I say “kind of”, because this was, even by my standards, a very slapdash operation. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mother asked the room at large if we wanted Bacon Jam for Thanksgiving. Nate said “No,” because Nate automatically votes against any plan that requires physical effort or activity on his part. I voted “Yes,” because we had just made the Okonomiyaki, and I had to open a Costco bag of bacon to get the five slices that recipe called for, so if we DIDN’T make a bunch of bacon in the next few days, my mother was certain to throw out a pound and a half of Bacon out of concern that cured meats in the fridge had gone bad in six days.
At which point, she handed me a recipe for slow-cooker bacon jam, and said “Alright, I make this recipe, except I don’t use a slow-cooker.” And then she walked away. That was the TOTALITY of instruction I received. (Actually, she specified “See where it says “cook until liquid is syrupy? Just do that.”) So, technically, this is BASED off the Martha recipe, and made in a different style. DON’T SUE ME, MARTHA! (You gotta play it safe with Stewart. She don’t play.)
So, let’s break down the bacon, and find ourselves in a jam!
Making Home The Bacon? I wasn’t Expecting Another Title.
Sloppy, Title Jon. Sloppy.
So, step one is maybe the hardest step in this entire production: cut 1.5 pounds of bacon into 1 inch strips, and then fry it for 20 minutes until “fat is rendered, and bacon is lightly browned”. Yeah, if the fact that this could be made in a slow-cooker didn’t alert you ahead of time, this recipe is basically “dump a bunch of ingredients in a pot, and walk away.” Chopping the onion and bacon, and making the coffee might be the most complex parts of the process.
Certainly the blurriest part of the process. Jesus, Past Jon, what happened? Did you ride a Tilt-a-Whirl mid-recipe?
And you might be saying “Jon, making coffee isn’t complex.” Well, voice in my head, it is if you NEVER DRINK COFFEE. Luckily, my family drinks enough coffee, and is trendy enough, that they own a Keurig, so it’s easy enough. Though, in the interest of fairness, Nate and I almost messed it up, since he thought I needed twice as much coffee as I did. IN the second interest of fairness, the fact that I’m arguing with head voices is either a ringing endorsement of these painkillers, or a grim warning against them. Whichever you prefer.
But, yeah, a lot of this recipe is just staring at a pan full of varying ingredients, and asking yourself: “Does this look right?” Like, after 15 or so minutes of frying, THIS is how the bacon looked.
I can't decide if I like this picture because it perfectly captures the grey, flabby nature of the bacon, and the precise spattering of fat, or if I dislike it because of those same qualities.
That’s definitely not “lightly browned” in my mind. It’s “mostly greyed”. My specific batch ended up going logarithmic on me, with the last 5 minutes of cooking producing more browning than the first 15-20. Is that the correct use of logarithmic? I’m drugged up and fairly sleepy. Maybe I meant “exponential”. Look, I was never a big fan of math, and I’m certainly less of one when I’m using it in the morning.
Once your meat is mathematically Maillard-ized to your amusement, then comes the rest of the ingredients: some diced onion and crushed garlic get fried in the bacon fat, and then…well, I already spoiled the next step, but I may as well walk through the components and their uses. “Jams” of course are typically both acidic and sweet, so adding in apple cider vinegar and brown sugar helps establish the parallels to the dish’s namesake, and maple syrup serves as a unifying second sweetener, as bacon is often flavored with both maple and/or brown sugar. This extra sweetness is needed because the salty and meaty bacon is, well, a non-standard jam option, as most jam ingredients bring more natural sugars with them. However, now we’ve created a mixture of rich meats and sugars, so we need to bring it down in richness lest it become too heavy, or cloying. The bitterness of coffee, and the sharp tang of garlic chime in here, balancing the dish into something meaty, sweet, earthy, and delightful. In theory. How does it pan out in practice?
Only in the sober light of morning do I realize drugged Jon fell ass-backward into a pun with "Pan out".
As mentioned, the next step was incredibly vague, as our recipe uses a different cooking method than the original, but contains no guess on how long it will take. Personally, I just put on a series of TV cooking shows, walking back to stir the mixture during commercial breaks and whenever a specific ingredient or dish didn’t particularly interest me. After about 3 episodes or so, Nate and I agreed the liquid in the pan was pretty much syrup, so we moved on to the next, and basically final phase: blending.
Some basic blending safety here: when blending hot foods or liquids, be careful about how high you fill the container: going more than half-way can risk releasing too much steam and popping the top off your device. Even lower amounts can make taking the top off a bit of a pain, as the steam creates a pressurized environment, making the lid “stick”. We didn’t run into either of those issues, but it’s important to know they can happen. Sometimes I forget to tell people what I think is common cooking knowledge, and end up with a disaster on my hands. JJ once asked me to confirm the INGREDIENTS of Chilaquiles, without discussing the COMPOSITION, so the dish he proudly produced as Chilaquiles were basically just “breakfast nachos”. (Rather than cooking the tortilla chips in the salsa, and poaching eggs in it, he cooked the eggs scrambled with the salsa, and spooned the finished product over the chips.)
But, in the end, our jam looked basically correct: dark and slightly chunky. We made just a little more than the Tupperware dish I had grabbed could fit, so I ate a little under a quarter of a cup of the stuff right away, rather than store such a dinky amount. And it tasted pretty much exactly as I remembered it, and exactly as we hoped it would: a little sweet, with meaty bacon flavor.
Using it is a matter of substituting it in anyplace you’d consider using bacon: you can spread it on the buns for burgers, or in a BLT. You can mix it into meatloaf, or spread it on bread and serve it with cheese. You can mix it into scrambled eggs for a single unit bacon and eggs, and maybe spoon the mixture over tortilla chips to make an even better rendition of breakfast nachos! The possibilities are endless! Enough to make…you…dizzyyy. That might not have been a good idea on these meds. I gotta lie down now.
THURSDAY: JON RETURNS TO THE CULINARY COMPENDIUM OF COOKING CANT. WHAT BRANCH OF DIETARY DICTATES WILL RECEIVE HIS DICTIONARY DELINEATIONS THIS TIME? THE ANSWER: DIETARY RESTRICTIONS! JON WILL STRIVE TO ALIENATE ALL HIS FRIENDS BY MOCKING THEIR LIFE CHOICES A SECOND TIME!
MONDAY: ARE YOU STRONG ENOUGH TO FACE JON’S STROGANOFF?
1.5 lbs sliced bacon, cut into 1” strips
2 medium yellow onions, diced small
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup brewed coffee
¼ cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not that Mrs Buttersworth ‘maple flavored corn syrup’)
1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium high heat. Stir occasionally, and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned, about 25-30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel covered plate to drain. Dump out all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat from the skillet. (You can save the poured off fat for something else, if you want.)
2. Cook the onions and garlic in the remaining fat for about 6 minutes, until translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients (Minus the bacon), and bring to a boil, stirring vigorously to scrape up any brown bits. Once boiling, cook for about 2 minutes, then add the bacon back in, and stir to combine.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1-2 hours, until liquid is syrupy. Then, dump mixture into a food processor, and blend until coarsely chopped. You can serve warm, or cool and store up to 1 month.