After I tell someone I’m in a book club, I can almost guarantee the response: “What book are you reading now?”
That’s when I have to explain that we haven’t read a book since our first meeting two years ago, at which point we realized that we were all much more interested in eating than reading. At every get-together since then, we’ve been far too concerned with our latest cooking and dining adventures to talk about anything else, let alone a book.
It was at one of our meetings that I was first introduced to bacon jam. At the time, bacon was having a moment. It was the hot new ingredient on dessert menus, the inspiration behind dozens of bacon-lovers’ websites, and the main component in wacky products like bacon mayonnaise and bacon chapstick. I’d always been a fan of bacon, but I’d never had it in this jammy form: smoky-sweet, with a stick-to-your-teeth, spreadable texture. I was hooked.
Bacon jam isn’t exactly what it sounds like. (Unless it sounds delicious. Then it’s exactly what it sounds like.) It’s essentially rendered bacon simmered in its own fat along with lots of other flavorings, and then processed to a paste. After making a few batches inspired by food blogs and Bacon Marmalade (a Brooklyn company that makes a mouth-watering, chewy, sweet version of the stuff), I settled on my final recipe.
Bacon, onions, garlic, coffee, vinegar, maple syrup, and brown sugar made a substantial foundation, as they did in many of the recipes I found. These ingredients, along with shallots, honey, allspice, and chili powder, made for a recipe that was rich and meaty, and also sweet and smoky. I’ve been introduced to many new foods and restaurants since joining my “book club,” but bacon jam will always be one of my favorites.
And as for the book club, we’ve decided to break from our two-year tradition and assign some actual reading for our next gathering—a cookbook, of course.
Allowing the bacon to crisp before transferring it to a paper towel-lined plate is particularly important—and difficult, since I am not a patient cook. The bacon needs an occasional stir as it renders, but since there’s so much of it, it can take almost 20 minutes to crisp up. So to keep myself from removing half-crisped bacon from the pot prematurely, I slice the onions, garlic, and shallots (that I’ve already gathered and have on hand) while the bacon cooks. It’s an efficient use of time, and it keeps my hands busy so they don’t touch the bacon before they should.
The kind of oil used in a recipe should serve a purpose. For example, the mild flavor of extra-virgin olive oil doesn’t overwhelm other ingredients, so it’s often drizzled over final dishes, whereas the high smoking point of vegetable oil lends it to deep-frying because it won’t burn like other kinds of oils. In bacon jam, the bacon fat serves two purposes: It boosts the rich bacon flavor and gives it a smooth but textured consistency.
This recipe takes a couple of hours to prepare from start to finish, but most of it is walk-away cooking time. The bulk of that is spent waiting for the bacon mixture to cook down to a glazy, jammy consistency. The addition of water serves to prevent the bottom of the simmering mixture from scorching, and it evaporates as the mixture cooks down and starts to darken in color. I know it’s just about ready to puree when the rubber spatula I’m using to stir the pot leaves a distinct trail.
Simmering the ingredients in the rendered bacon fat infuses them with meaty flavor, but pureeing the whole mixture—bacon grease and all—would make it overly greasy. To limit the amount of fat in the final product, I use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a food processor. This leaves behind the excess grease, but also ensures that it retains some fat, which is important to the texture of the bacon jam after it’s pureed.
I prefer the texture of my bacon jam on the chunky side, when it’s got texture but is still spreadable. I always pulse it for a couple seconds, take off the top of the food processor, and check the jam’s consistency. If the bacon pieces are still a little too big, I process it for another couple of seconds and check it again. I can always puree it more, but I can’t go back once I’ve pureed it too much for my liking—but it will taste the same either way. The texture is completely a personal preference.