Chef Test: Bacon

Tamara Murphy of <i>Brasa</i> brings home the bacon (and fries it up in a pan).

Category: Eat + Drink Articles

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
At the restaurant, she cures local pork bellies and uses the resulting bacon in dishes such as seared sea scallops with melted leeks, house-cured bacon and soft-cooked quail’s egg. In fact, she’s serious about pork in general: Last year she wrote a blog, Life of a Pig (tamaramurphy.typepad.com), which tracked the progress of some Brasa-bound hogs from birth to slaughter to the dinner plate.

That’s not to say Murphy turns up her nose at commercial bacon. When I asked if she’d consider doing a bacon test, she replied, “I am always ready for bacon.” What she looks for in bacon depends on what she’s cooking. “If I’m going to make a BLT, I have to say I’m looking for something crispy,” she says. “If I’m using bacon for sautéing greens or stew, I want some fat.”

I narrowed the field to five I’ve enjoyed in the past. We cooked the bacon in skillets, and Murphy judged them according to which she’d prefer with eggs for breakfast. Matthew Amster-Burton

WINNER! Wellshire Farms Applewood-Smoked ($6.99 per pound at Whole Foods, multiple locations including Roosevelt, 1026 NE 64th St.; 206.985.1500; wholefoods.com)
The only nitrite-free bacon in the mix, Wellshire wowed us with its balance of smoke, salt and sugar. “We’re eating the granddaddy, in terms of thickness,” says Murphy. “I think it would be good thin as well. We need some big, ripe summer tomatoes.” This bacon is really thick—if crisp and crackly is what you’re after, consider the Nueske’s below.

#2 Farmland Thick-Sliced (about $5 per pound at Safeway and QFC, various locations)
“Salty! Curly and salty. A little too salty for me,” says Murphy. Still, great crispy texture and overall excellent flavor. The slicing of this supermarket bacon is highly inconsistent: Some slices are ragged, and some are thicker than others.

#3 Nueske’s ($4.99 for eight ounces at Metropolitan Market, multiple locations including 1908 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.284.2530; metropolitan-market.com)
“Wow. holy smokes,” jokes Murphy upon tasting this ultra-smoky boutique bacon from Wisconsin. “Texturally, I like this one. I would not be opposed to this really smoky bacon cut thick with greens.”
 
#4 Niman Ranch Dry-Cured Center Cut ($4.69 per pound at Trader Joe’s, multiple locations including 4555 Roosevelt Way NE; 206.547.6299; traderjoes.com)
“Not a lot of substance,” observes Murphy, “but this has more flavorthan [#5].” This bacon shrank the most while cooking—not a drawback if you’re looking for bacon fat.
 
#5 Regular Bacon at Bavarian Meats ($5.50 per pound at Bavarian Meats, 1920 Pike Place, 206.441.0942)
I had high hopes for this local, which I often buy in the form of slab bacon. “But this is incredibly bland,” says Murphy. “There’s a nice crunch to it, but what do you really get there?”

 
(Photo by Lara Ferroni)
Categories: