Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bacon, You Have Been Replaced

Bacon, your days as THE flavor maker in just about everything might be coming to a close. Anyone who cooks knows the importance of using bacon- in soups, stews, sauces- cut into lardons or chopped, cooked until crisp and brown and added to the recipe at just the right moment, bacon can make the whole recipe. Can you imagine sweet and saucy baked beans without the crispy bacon and onions sweated in a little of the bacon fat? Of course not! That's a critical part of building the smoky savory flavors. Crisply cooked bacon makes beef stew so much richer and many soups just wouldn't be the same without it.

The Chef made a surprising choice today. After perusing the meat selections in the fridge he decided it would be a pasta day at The Little Lake House. It's a cool autumn day and a nice spicy red sauce over pasta is always a welcome comfort food. Meatballs versus meat sauce? Meat sauce wins out. The Chef has his secret recipe filed away in his memory and as he was working away he had a stroke of brilliance. Now, as we talked about, loads of cooks and chefs use bacon as an initial ingredient in making a memorable dish. Italian chefs have the same theory, but they tend to choose pancetta over bacon, as it isn't smoked and adds a different flavor. It just so happened that The Chef had a secret weapon tucked away in the fridge- a little leftover remnant of something delicious that he really didn't know what he was going to do with until it struck him- chop it up, saute it briefly and use to flavor that meaty red sauce.

What is this mystery ingredient? Capicola! You better believe it. That Italian deli standard, spicy and delicious, gets a whole new mission in the kitchen. There are as many versions of this ham-like dry cured meat as there are spellings. 

The Chef had been contemplating what to do with this end piece leftover chunk that wasn't enough for sandwiches, but too much to just throw away. In the name of science he cut the leftover hunk of capicola (left over from a big chunk that he had been slicing off for sandwiches at the restaurant) into small dice, tossed them in a Dutch oven with a little drizzle of olive oil and gave it a quick saute before adding the onions, garlic, mushrooms, and the remaining sauce ingredients and letting it simmer. The capicola infused the sauce with loads of warm spiciness and added just a subtle change in flavor. I knew something was different, but I couldn't figure out just what (he kept me guessing for quite a while). In the spirit of No Recipe Cooking I suggest you guys give this technique a try next time you're making red sauce, minestrone, or vegetable soup- you'll get an unexpected boost of flavor and hint of heat without overpowering your tastebuds. Delicioso!

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