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How to make the perfect bacon sandwich
Cuts of bacon
We're spoilt for choice when it comes to bacon cuts. Back rashers are versatile, tasting great grilled, fried or baked, while streaky rashers are an economical cut with thin layers of fat that crisp up brilliantly. Fore hock and gammon hock are ideal for slow-cooking in casseroles and soups, and middle rashers, with their mix of streaky and back rasher cuts, are perfect for indecisive types. Watch out for the Red Tractor logo for bacon that's traceable by country and farm.
How to cook bacon: grilling v frying
"Sometimes we put bacon on the chargrill, but you've got to make sure it doesn't dry out," says Jason King who runs the Michelin-recommended Wellington Arms in Hampshire. "A really nice way of doing it, is just sticking it under the grill. Put it on a baking rack, so it's not getting soggy underneath, and then just flip it over."
Smoking is more of a finishing process for bacon, rather than a curing process, with various types of smoke used from cherry and applewood to hickory and oak. "Smoking increases the saltiness of the bacon a tiny bit," says Tim Wilson, owner of The Ginger Pig butchers. "As the bacon is hanging in the smoke room, it dries it a little bit more and the saltiness is intensified."
You can take bacon up a notch with a distinctive cure. Dry-cured rashers (cured using salt) make great bacon butties, while sweet-cured bacon (usually cured using muscovado, demerara or molasses), is delicious as an add-in ingredient with pasta, chicken or as a pizza topping. For all-out indulgence, maple cure is a must-have match for American waffles or pancakes. Are you drooling yet?
Things to watch out for
If you get white residue leaking out of your bacon as you're cooking it, it's a sign that it's been wet-cured. Known as 'white exudate', this residue is usually a mix of water, salt and sometimes preservatives that the bacon has either been soaked in, or injected with. If you want to avoid it, Keith Fisher, Baconologist for Bacon Connoisseurs' Week, recommends choosing traditional cures like Wiltshire cure or dry-cure instead.
Deb Perelman, Flickr, Getty Images
What makes the perfect bacon sarnie?
Tim Wilson goes for plain streaky bacon in his perfect bacon sandwich, giving the smoked stuff a miss. "If you've got a piece of bacon that's really well cured - proper dry-cured bacon, where you're actually tasting the saltiness of the pork - it's a shame to smoke it," he says. "If you use streaky, it's got nice layers of fat running through it. Another thing which really makes a bacon sandwich fantastic is to put a fried egg in it."
"You've got to use white bread," he adds. "Commercial white bread, and it's got to be that sort of real basic white bread. Not sourdough or all those things - just proper workman's bread. Dip the bread into the bacon fat, and that's it - fantastic!"
Clever bacon tricks
Jason King raises his own pigs at the Wellington Arms and uses them in all sorts of ways on his menu. As well as braising bacon chops with cannellini beans for a robust flavour-packed dish, Jason has a killer trick with bacon.
"The best thing we do is take dry-cure bacon, slice it and sprinkle it with brown sugar, layer it up and leave it in the fridge for a couple of days," he says. "When you seal it under the grill, you get that caramel-bacon flavour, which is really, really good."
A lot of love for bacon
"The bacon sandwich is one of the western world's greatest triumphs," says MasterChef presenter Gregg Wallace. Al Murray, The Pub Landlord has more praise for the cheeky rasher of bacon: "Bacon is the greatest hangover cure known to man, a veritable miracle food," he says. "The smell of it alone proves that aromatherapy isn't all witless, wishful bull****." Yep, just what we were thinking.
Ketchup v brown sauce?
"We cure bacon at The Ginger Pig, so I always like to taste the bacon to make sure it's worked," says Tim Wilson. "But, I have to say every so often (and it's almost like you're doing something naughty), if there's no-one about, I do actually get tomato ketchup out!"
Bacon Connoisseurs' Week 2012, running from 19-25 March, is a celebration of great quality Red Tractor Bacon. For details, visit lovepork.co.uk.
How do you rustle up your bacon at home? Do you use a frying pan so you can mop up the bacon fat, or grill your bacon for a crisp finish? Let us know in the comments section below...