The Magic of Bacon Jam



Bacon Jam.

That should be all I need to say. (Ok, unless you’re a vegetarian.) Bacon jam is a magical concoction capable of transforming just about any food from mundane to extraordinary instantly.

I’m certainly not the first to make this ambrosia. Recipes have been circulating the internet for several years. I also frequently see it sold at farmer’s market and gourmet shops for a pretty penny, but it’s actually pretty easy to make. It does require some time though, so it makes a good rainy day or a weekend cooking project.



I started making it a few years ago as a Christmas treat for Greg, and I’ll often make another batch around his birthday in the summer. The version I’ve been developing over time is essentially a blend of this recipe from Martha Stewart and this recipe from Closet Cooking. If you click on these, you’ll see one is a slow cooker recipe and one is for the stovetop. I’ve made it both ways and both work equally well.

I’m going to add a predominantly oven-based method here. I started doing it this way at a point when my last slow-cooker stopped working on me, but I wanted to have a similarly lazy cooking experience. For all my time cooking, I’m still awful about letting the bottom of the pot scorch on the stovetop and the even heating of the oven seems to works well for me. I set the oven temperature here to 350°F, but if you need to walk away for a bit or are worried you might get distracted, drop it to 325°F for even gentler cooking.

Hopefully, the takeaway here is that there’s more than one to skin a cat–pick what suits you. There are four main steps and you can tackle them however you feel most comfortable.

  1.    Cook the bacon.



2.    Cook the onions and combine with the other ingredients.

 

    3.    Add the bacon and cook it all until the liquid is syrupy.




    4.    Pulse in a blender.



In general, I prefer using the oven to cook bacon anyways, since it cooks more evenly. (For more on that see this post from The Kitchn or this one from The Pioneer Woman.) Using a wire rack helps the bacon get even crispier. That doesn’t matter so much in this case since it’s going to be cooked down anyways, but it has a secondary benefit. By putting it on a rack, the bacon grease drains right off and is automatically separated from the solid pieces. I like to save this for later use–bacon fat makes a delicious cooking medium–and this way, all you have to do is strain out any extra little bits that may have fallen in. Once it’s a little cooled, I just strain right into a container and store it in the freezer.

A good applewood smoked bacon is great here since that flavor is going to get concentrated. However, if you happen to find bacon bits or ends at the store, go ahead and save yourself the money. Use a good bacon, but the cut doesn’t matter too much–you're going to cut it into pieces anyways.


Since the oven is on anyways while the bacon is cooking, I just go ahead get the onions going at the same time. All you have to do then is transfer the pan to the stovetop for a moment while you combine everything, before shoving it at all back in the oven again.

(Here it's served on melba toast with cheese for a really simple appetizer.)

This stuff is delicious spread on a piece of toast or a biscuit on its own, but a little goes a long way. The real magic is in all the things you can do with it. Once you have it around, you will find a million ways to use it. At this point, I absolutely consider this a Building Block Recipe. It’s also always a crowd pleaser and dishes where I’ve added a bit tend to wow.

It’s particularly useful at this time of year because it matches so well with all of the delicious root vegetables that are around in the winter and fall. I’m planning on using it on the sweet potatoes I’m taking to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. For more ideas on how use it, scroll down past the recipe.

This makes roughly around 4 cups, give or take a bit. I like to split this into portions and store the extras in freezer for later use.  They unfreeze perfectly and this way I almost always have some around, but only have to do the work a couple of times a year.

Bacon Jam

Ingredients

2 onions, sliced
2 lbs bacon, cut into piece
½ cup of apple cider vinegar
6 to 8 garlic cloves
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup brewed coffee
½ cup Bourbon
4 chipotle chiles in adobo, with some of the adobo sauce
1 tsp cumin
Pinch of smoked chile powder
Pepper
Salt

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Place the onions in a lightly greased Dutch oven or large, oven-safe pan with a couple tablespoons of  water. Season with a little salt and place the onions in the oven. Stir occasionally.

3. Simultaneously, place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. (Note: the rack isn’t necessary, but elevating the bacon helps it crisp up and helps separate the grease automatically). Arrange the bacon on the rack. Bake the bacon in the oven until browned and crispy for 15-25 minutes. Timing may vary depending on the thickness of the bacon, so begin checking after 12-15 minutes.

4. Once the bacon is crisp, remove from the oven and transfer the onions to the stovetop on medium heat. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar making sure to scrape up any brown bits. Add in a couple of tablespoons of the bacon fat (reserve the rest for another use or discard) and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Add in the bacon and stir all together to combine.

5. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Transfer the bacon mixture back to the oven and cook for another 90 minutes to 2 hours, or until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven.

6. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and pulse until you reach the desired consistency. (I like to leave mine a little chunky, so I can still see small bits of bacon.)  Serve or store.

Uses

Now you have it a rather large batch and you’re wondering how to use it. Have no fear. I got you.

(A grilled cheese sandwich gets a gourmet boost with bacon jam and sliced Granny Smith apples served with a bowl of carrot ginger soup.)

Let’s start with the basics. This makes an insanely good grilled cheese sandwich. If you want to go up another notch, swap it for the ham in a croque madame, add it to a breakfast sandwich, or jazz up eggs benedict. It’s implications on breakfast in general should be clear–it’s great friends with eggs.


It’s delicious in mac and cheese–really this will happily go pretty much anywhere there’s cheese. It’s fantastic on flat breads as well–gorgonzola, pear, and arugula would be delicious.

I also like to use it as a secret ingredient in soups, stews, braises, and sauces. You can use a little as a flavor boost. If you use it sparingly it will add that certain something without being overpowering or even overt.

As mentioned above, this is great on root vegetables. I particularly like it on Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. In these cases, I’ll usually dilute it down first with a little water or even with balsamic vinegar, which I might reduce down to make a glaze. Just drizzle it on top or toss lightly with the veggies. It works wonderfully as part of the glaze in this recipe from Yottam Ottolenghi.

(Bacon jam-balsamic glaze not pictured here–I served it on the side for vegetarian friends.)

I similarly like to use it as a glaze for proteins. One of my all time favorite uses is on scallops. I’ll lightly sear them in the pan–I usually sear them more lightly in this case, than if I’m eating them on their own. I’ll then transfer them to a separate plate for a moment and wipe out the pan. Add a little bacon jam to the pan and dilute it with a little water to get that glaze consistency, then return the scallops to the pan, toss quickly, then serve immediately. Here they’re served on a bed of polenta with sautéed kale.


However, possibly my favorite scallop combo is to use it in a variation of an 8 & $20 I did for WineSpectator.com a while ago. (Pictured at the top.) You can follow that recipe, but prepare the scallops as indicated above. That combo goes in my top 5 of favorite dishes I’ve ever made myself.

And finally, because this is on the sweet side, it also works really well in desserts. For a show-stopping dessert, prepare this wonderful Peach Bread Pudding I found from the Beazley House Bed and Breakfast, but mix in a little bacon jam with the crumble. Absolutely baller!





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