Bacon is a popular, if guilty, delight for many, and chefs continue to find creative ways to inject the smoky rich flavor of salt-cured pork belly into their menus.
Lisa Kurth, executive chef and general manager for Bon Appétit at TBWA/CHIAT/DAY in Los Angeles, recognizes the demand for bacon on today’s menus.
“We make our own barbecue sauce with bacon,” Kurth says. “We make a bacon-wrapped shrimp dish where we butterfly the shrimp and add cream cheese and jalapeño, then wrap it with turkey bacon. We also make a basket weave with bacon strips on a bake pan. We roll up sausage and add barbecue sauce. For another dish, we roll up shredded barbecued chicken with collard greens or mashed sweet potatoes, like a Southern style. We call it a bacon rollover. It comes out like a loaf and you cut it in slices. We also add crispy bacon bits to our ranch dressing to make crispy bacon ranch dressing.”
Sugary sweet meat: “We think that bacon is the candy of the meat world,” says Dave McHugh, executive chef at San Diego State University in California. “There’s bacon ice cream, bacon chocolate chip cookies. We make a bacon maple cinnamon glaze that goes on biscuits.”
“Customers think it’s weird, but after they taste it they love it,” he says. “We also take a Marcona almond, which is similar to a maca-
damia nut, and stuff it into a majewel date wrapped in blanched bacon. We cook it slow over low heat to almost rehydrate the date.”
Shawn Dolan, executive chef at the University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill, says his department uses bacon liberally, even though “we need to keep an eye on calories, fat and salt.”
“We make a shrimp and autumn succotash with butternut squash, lima beans, corn and drippings from bacon,” Dolan explains. “The smokiness of the bacon gives it flavor without going overboard on the fat content.”
Dolan also likes bacon for dessert.
“We joke around, but we use chocolate and bacon,” he says. “We make candied bacon. We also make a cherry bacon butter sauce.”
Even operators who don’t personally like bacon, like Holly Winslow, resident district manager for Bon Appétit at the University of San Francisco, bow to bacon’s sales power.
“We try to give students healthier alternatives to bacon, but a lot of these kids are from the Midwest and they just like their comfort food,” Winslow says. “We use bacon everywhere, like in soups and sandwiches. Last week, we did a BLT soup. It was cream based, with some sour cream and finished off with chopped bacon, lettuce and tomato.”
All-purpose protein: “The kids love bacon,” says Christine Schwartz, food service director at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine. “We use it in soups, sandwiches, salads and sides. Of course, we have it on the breakfast line and for lunch and with baked potatoes. They’ll eat it with anything.”
“We always run out at Sunday brunch,” says Nancy Miller, executive chef at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “We put out bacon pizza and they eat it up. We’ve made coq au vin with pancetta, quiche Lorraine and various soups and chicken dishes using bacon. You know what would be fun? How about a bacon quiche baked inside of a potato shell?”
Keith Martin, food service director at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., uses bacon on burgers and typical breakfast sides, but he also has come up with a dish that he loves.
“You shred fresh Brussels sprouts and sauté,” he says. “Then you add crispy bacon bits and caraway seeds.”
At Washington State University, in Pullman, Steven Walk, associate director of culinary operations and executive chef, CEC, says, “We use bacon in many ways. We use bacon as a pizza topping, in pasta dishes, on many sandwiches and, of course, as a side for breakfast and a topping for burgers.”
What the doctor ordered?: Even in healthcare, bacon finds a place on the menu.
“We’ve got a lot of women here and 95% of them complain about not getting healthy options, but they don’t order healthy,” says Tim Oehmsen, executive chef at North East Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem, N.H. “They order bacon and cheese because that’s what they want.”
Oehmsen uses regular layout bacon for breakfast sides and quiche and precooked bacon for sandwiches. “We make a chicken bacon ranch jalapeño sandwich that goes over well,” he notes.
William Read, executive chef at Saint Mary’s Health Care in Grand Rapids Mich., says it’s tough to use bacon in the hospital. But that doesn’t stop him from experimenting, with some measure of success.
“We made a basic bread pudding with bacon fat and finished it with bacon,” he explains. “We entered it into a contest and won.”
Anthony Labriola, executive chef and food production manager at Imperial Point Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., uses pancetta, the Italian version of bacon, in several recipes.
“We make a lyonnaise potato with pancetta,” he says. “We cut the potato on a mandoline and sauté it with butter and pancetta. We add caramelized onions and finish it in the broiler with manchego cheese.”
For breakfast Labriola makes a flatbread sandwich, using scrambled eggs with cheddar, topped with pancetta and salsa verde.
“We also do calzones with pancetta,” he says. “We do our version of shrimp scampi with pancetta.”
Paul Luttmann, CEC, executive chef at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., makes his own bacon.
“We buy pork bellies and cure them with a traditional mix,” he says. “We add dextrose for sugar, bay leaves, pepper and salt and pack it in layers. After seven days in the cooler, rotating half way through, we smoke it. We use it with braised cabbage, New England clam chowder, pork and beans, but we also serve it traditionally at breakfast. We’ve also wrapped it around a stuffed pork loin or tenderloin. If the bacon is thick and fresh, it leaves a nice little ring of pink cure, which helps with the moisture.”
School foodservice challenge: If there is one market sector where using bacon is a challenge, it is in school districts.
“We have no way of cooking it here,” explains Mary Loveless, foodservice director for the Baraboo (Wis.) School District. “We don’t have flat grills or the oven space. I know we can buy it precooked, but I just don’t see where it would enhance our menu greatly without adding a significant cost.”
That doesn’t mean that bacon is without favor in schools. Becky Domokos-Bays, R.D., Ph.D., director, Food and Nutrition Services, Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia, says she is experimenting with bacon for the first time this school year.
“We are going to use turkey bacon in a bacon, lettuce and tomato chef salad and maybe on some burgers,” she explains.