What is it about bacon gets people so darned hot?
All right, maybe that's a rhetorical question. We are living in the age of all things bacon, from lip balm to air fresheners for your car. There are bacon-flavored mints and bits of bacon in chocolate bars. Bacon makers such as Allan Benton are deservedly on the road to becoming as famous as their fine cured swine.
But all this sizzle makes me nervous that there's going to be a bacon backlash. When a chef slipped me a piece of candied bacon like it was something secret and illicit at Cochon 555 in Seattle last Sunday, I, like many others, worried that bacon has jumped the shark.
It wasn't always this way. When I was a kid, bacon was the humblest of breakfast foods. That phrase about eating high on the hog roughly translates to ham being the most highly prized meat to sidle up to a stack of pancakes or a pair of fried eggs. Bacon was cheap and a little went a long way. My grandfather ate one slice of bacon and one egg every morning of his blue collar life and Guy McMurtry Kelly lived to be 97.
Of course, bacon tastes great. It's the best combination of salt and fat, kind of smoky and oh-so-crispy goodness. But as a critic, I saw the tendency for lazy kitchens to overuse and abuse it. "Add bacon to anything and it'll sell" seemed to be the plan for some. Everything's better with bacon.
I'm certainly not suggesting a bacon boycott. Heck no. Bacon obviously makes people happy. When I worked an event Tom Douglas launched last spring called Baconopolis, I had never seen so many smiling faces in one room, as pork fans pigged out on salty bites like peanut butter-smeared banana bread with you know what on top. Yes, Elvis would be tickled.
Instead, what I'd like to propose is a bit of reflection on the bacon front. What can creative cooks do to give bacon some legs? Let's come up with a five-year pork plan. Because, you know, I would sure hate to see people get burned out on bacon the way they tired of blackened fish and tarted-up mashed potatoes.
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been apprenticing in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. Inspired by Michael Ruhlman, she recently started a new project on her personal blog, exploring "An Egg A Day".