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From the Belly of the Beast

Bacon—and recipes featuring bacon—are sizzling among food-o-philes

Pork comes in many forms and flavors: Hams, roasts, tenderloins, chops and, oh yes … bacon. Those salty, smoky pieces of cured pork belly ain’t just for breakfast anymore.

Bacon—and recipes featuring bacon—are sizzling among food-o-philes. There are people making bacon cupcakes, bacon ice cream and bacon-infused liquors. There are online bacon newsletters and businesses devoted to bacon paraphernalia.

So it’s not surprising that cooking classes are focused on dishes made with the succulent strips of swine.

I recently attended such a class at a Central Market store, part of the H-E-B family, in Austin. Instructor/Chef Cindy Haenel teaches a very popular series of classes focused on bacon.

Haenel, who hails from the Houston suburb of Alvin, taught eager and hungry students the ins and outs of bacon, running through the preparation of five different recipes, dishing out tips and advice as she fried up and baked pounds of crispy bacon.

She displayed her deft knife skills (another class she teaches) and an equally sharp sense of humor as she cooked her way through the dishes, samples of which were handed out to each student.

She expounded on the virtues of bacon and how to wring the most flavor out of it. Don’t discard the drippings (“pig butter” she called it), but save the excess for other cooking (delicious, but not for the diet-conscious). And those little bits of meat stuck in the pan after frying bacon, called the fond, contain big dollops of flavor. Scrape the pan and deglaze with a bit of water to get the most out of this bacon resource.

Here are a couple of my favorite recipes I brought home from her class. Haenel graciously allowed me to share them with you.

Savory Leek and Apple Wood Bacon Tart

Flaky Butter Crust (see below)
8 leeks, white portions only
4 slices thick-cut apple wood-smoked bacon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Prepare tart shell according to recipe on next page. Roll out dough to an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom and trim edges. Refrigerate in pan at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut leeks in half lengthwise and then crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half circles. Place in bowl and rinse well in two changes of water. Drain. Line pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until crust is set, about 12 minutes. Remove paper and weights and bake until golden brown, about another 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

In medium skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp and fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add butter to remaining fat in pan. When foamy, add drained leeks, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until leeks are very soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Combine eggs and cream in medium bowl and whisk well. Add bacon, Parmesan and Gruyère and whisk well. Add leeks and whisk to combine. Pour into prepared tart shell and bake until risen and golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack at least 20 minutes before serving.

Servings: 8. Serving size: 1 slice. Per serving: 365 calories, 9.4 g protein, 22.6 g fat, 28.2 g carbohydrates, 2.2 g dietary fiber, 550 mg sodium, 117 mg cholesterol

Flaky Butter Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed

For food processor: Combine flour, butter and salt in food processor. Pulse 10 seconds, then add ice water. Pulse quickly 5 or 6 times until dough comes together. Remove dough and place on floured surface. Using hands, work dough into ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before using.

To make by hand: Combine flour, butter and salt in medium bowl and mix with pastry knife or fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water, 1 tablespoon at time, and mix until dough comes together and is no longer dry, taking care not to overmix. Form into ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before using.

For both preparations, roll out on lightly floured surface as directed in recipe, then allow to rest again in refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.

Chocolate-Covered Bacon with Almonds

1 pound thickly sliced slab bacon
1/2 pound milk chocolate
1/4 pound toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place bacon on sheet tray and cook until crisp, about 35 minutes. Melt chocolate in double boiler over low heat. Dip crisp bacon in chocolate and place back on sheet tray. Sprinkle with almonds and refrigerate 30 minutes, or until ready to serve.

Servings: 12. Serving size: 1 strip. Per serving: 330 calories, 7.9 g protein, 27.1 g fat, 13.3 g carbohydrates, 1.8 g dietary fiber, 329 mg sodium, 30 mg cholesterol

Kevin Hargis is Texas Co-op Power’s food editor. Contact him at [email protected].