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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Bacon Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

A Great Way To (Literally) Save Your Bacon

Anybody who's known me more than five minutes knows I love bacon. Even if you don't know me, I guess reading my descriptions of “porky ambrosia” would probably give you a clue. My wife and I wear our “Benton's Bacon” t-shirts to bacon festivals and we discuss bacon in the same way some people talk about wine. We're pretty much fanatics on the subject. That's not to say I eat bacon every day. Actually, I only indulge my passion for my favorite food once or maybe twice a week. And that brings me to the topic at hand: bacon is a terrible thing to waste.

At four, five, six or more dollars per pound, bacon is one of life's pricier indulgences. Far too pricey to watch it languish in the back of the refrigerator. Now, maybe if you've got a big family, “languishing” doesn't really enter the picture. But if you're just cooking for yourself or one or two others, it's often a different story. How many times have you opened a package of bacon, cooked what you needed, and put the rest back in the refrigerator, only to have it spoil before you could use it up?

Because it's a cured product, bacon lasts a lot longer than other meats. But it will eventually go bad and bad bacon is not a pretty thing. But it is pretty easy to spot. Remember that nice pink-to-red color it had when you first opened the package? If it's now more of a brown-to-gray hue, it's gone 'round the bend. Bad bacon will also be slippery, waxy, or maybe even a little sticky to the touch. Really bad bacon will have a bit of a greenish cast. And it will smell “off.” Good bacon will smell like...well....good bacon. If it has a sour or rancid smell, it's too late.

The FDA will tell you you've got seven days to polish off that open package of bacon stashed in the meat drawer. You might be able to stretch that a day or two, depending upon the bacon and the way it's cured. Different cures will produce different shelf lives. But regardless, after about a week, watch carefully for the aforementioned warning signs. Or, you can do what I do: freeze it.

Again, the FDA says one month in the freezer. And again I say that depends on how you freeze it. I wouldn't go hog wild – pardon the pun – and try to keep it frozen for a year, but with proper freezing techniques, you can probably get at least a month out of it. Not that I've ever had bacon last for more than a month, so it's hard for me to say. But err on the side of safety; if you get a really great deal on some bacon, resist the urge to buy twenty pounds with the idea that it'll keep for months in the freezer. It won't.

I'm picky about my bacon. When I can get it, I buy quality artisinal bacon like Benton's. Next on my favorites list is bacon from a butcher shop or the meat department at places like Fresh Market or Whole Foods. When I do buy supermarket bacon, it's usually something higher-end like Wright's. I avoid cheap, fatty, flavorless bacon like the plague. I buy Benton's five pounds at a time. With other bacons I buy a pound or two, depending on how much I need. But although I'm a firm believer in freezing bacon to preserve freshness, I don't just toss a whole package of bacon right out of the grocery bag into the freezer. Why? Well, to begin with, I'd have to thaw the whole package in order to use it, which would put me right back at square one. And the original package is intended to preserve freshness for a few days in the refrigerator. It's not designed for long-term freezing. So first things first; ditch the wrapper.

There are two easy, efficient ways to store bacon in the freezer; flat or rolled up. I prefer to roll mine, but the flat method is good, too. As long as you execute either method the right way.

If you go flat, there are two ways to proceed. You can portion the bacon out by separating the package into quarters or halves or whatever you prefer. Wrap the portions tightly in plastic wrap and then place the wrapped portions in a plastic zip-top freezer storage bag. Fold and squeeze the bag until you've got all the air out of it and then zip it closed – almost. Leave enough room to slip a straw into one corner. Then suck out the remaining air and quickly seal the package. Or you can use a vacuum sealer, but it's not nearly as much fun. Some folks wrap the plastic-wrapped portions in foil before putting them in the freezer bag. I don't, but you can.

Another flat storage technique involves separating the package into individual slices and portioning it with strips of wax paper between the separate pieces. Then you wrap and bag as with the other method.

My favorite way to freeze bacon goes like this: I open the market wrapping and take the first slice of bacon in hand. Starting at one end, I just roll it up. It doesn't have to be a super tight roll, just make a little cylinder. Said roll then goes into a quart-size zip-top freezer bag, tucked down in a corner. I roll up another slice and place it in the bag next to the first one. Try to keep a little separation so the rolls don't freeze together. Proceed in this manner until you fill up the quart-size bag. You should be able to pack in three rows of four slices. Press and/or suck all the air out of the bag and seal it. Then place the quart-size freezer bag in a gallon-size freezer bag and start the process over again. I usually buy two pounds of bacon and I generally employ two or three quart-size bags. Once all the small bags are in place, seal the big one and toss it in the freezer.

Whether you choose flat storage or rolled, make sure you label the packages. You don't necessarily have to write “bacon” on the label – you can pretty much figure that one out – but do make sure to date the package. Time flies.

I like the individually wrapped slices rather than the half or quarter-pound packages because I can just open the freezer and grab as many as I need. If I'm making breakfast for myself, I can take out two or three slices. Five or six if I'm cooking for two. And if I just need one slice to crumble up on a baked potato, I can just get one slice. If you're really organized and efficient, you can transfer the frozen slices to the refrigerator a few hours before you're ready to cook them. Or if you're like me, a few seconds of the microwave's “defrost” setting gets the job done on the spur of the moment.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of getting all the air out of the package. Ice crystals and freezer burn are not good eats and that's what you'll get if you don't express all the air from the package before you freeze it. This includes getting the air out every time you open the bag to select a slice or two. Squeeze the air out before you reseal the bag. Otherwise, why bother? You'll just wind up with spoilage of a different sort.

When it comes to my favorite meat product, I would much rather have it go to waist than to have it go to waste. So, to literally save your bacon, freeze it. No muss, no fuss, and best of all, no waste.  

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