British Back-Bacon: Two Ways

I made a little pit stop at the Wicker Park & Bucktown Farmers Market when meeting friends for a little Sunday Funday at Big Star (pretending like I'm still in Mexico) last weekend. Not planning on making any purchases at the market, I was just wandering around, taking a look at the goods. That was until I got suckered into Spencer's stand to try some traditional bangers and back-bacon. Dang! I didn't want to buy anything! (Hi. My name is Katie, and I'm a shopaholic. Food and clothes equally.)

I couldn't leave the stand without getting some of that delicious, thick bacon. British & Irish bacon is traditionally called “back-bacon” because it is made with pork loin. This makes it leaner than American bacon, which is typically from pork belly, according to Spencer. So I carried my pork loin around with me, strapped to my side as we rode bikes around the city. Have no fear, it was frozen when I bought it. So by the time I got  home, it was perfectly thawed and ready for me to make some dinner!

So, who are these guys and why are there a bunch of Brits hanging around our farmers markets? Because they got the good stuff. And I'm apparently not the first person to find them. Weird. Some of Chicago's favorite pubs like Bangers & Lace, Blokes & Birds, Grealy’s, Red Lion,  and Hot Dougs, serve Spencer's products. And since the food trucks are sweeping Chicago by storm, they are of course working with one of the most popular sausage trucks on the streets, Haute Sausage. Good to know that some of my favorite pubs serve fresh and local meats!

I'm always slightly skeptical when it comes to meat, because some of it is just scary. But when you're standing at the market, talking to the guy who is responsible for making that little slice of bacon-y delight, you know you're getting something good. Nick Spencer, the owner of Spencer's, gets his meat through a purveyor in Fulton Market, and uses Yorkshire hogs (the county in England where Nick is from). I'll tell ya, makes for some tasty treats.

Currently Nick's company only offers bangers and back-bacon, but will soon be offering black and white pudding, and a few more products that are in the works. When I asked Nick if he was planning on opening his own "pub", he mentioned that there's something in the works, but it's not necessarily a pub. So all you Chicagoans out there, keep your eyes open for Nick to do something cool in the near future.

Here are a couple of my recipes for trying out British back-bacon. For more authentic recipes, visit Spencer's website for details.

Recipe #1: Back-Bacon and Tomato Pasta

4 slices English back-bacon (or Canadian bacon if not available)
7 Roma tomatoes
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 shallot (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 tbsp capers
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 sprigs thyme (leaves only)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 8oz. box quinoa pasta shells (or your favorite pasta, it's all I had left in my pantry)
1/4 cup pasta water
Piave or Parmesan cheese to top (grated)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

First, you will need to prep a few of your ingredients. First, the tomatoes. You want to remove the skins from the tomatoes before adding them to the recipe. So cut an "X" on the top point on each of the Roma tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into a boiling pot of water and let boil for 1-2 minutes. You should see the skin peeling back. Remove from the water immediately and drain. Once cooled, you should easily be able to peel the skins back and you will be left with bright red, skinless tomatoes.

As you prep the tomatoes, you can also toast your pine nuts. Place the pine nuts in a saute pan and heat over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Don't let the nuts burn! They should just start to become fragrant and slightly brown.

In a large saute pan, heat a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the back-bacon and cook for about 6 minutes, or until it has browned up a bit. Remove the bacon, but leave the bacon grease in the pan. Cut the bacon into bite sized pieces when cooled.

Add some more olive oil to the pan, and lower the heat to medium. Add the shallots and cook for 4 minutes. Add the garlic, capers, white wine, crushed red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to the pan. Let cook for about 5 minutes, until simmering slightly. Add the tomatoes, and mash up a bit with a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes. Don't break up too much, because you want the tomatoes to be chunky. Add the bacon, pine nuts, and thyme. Add some salt and pepper, and let cook for about 15 minutes.

Cook the pasta in a pot of salty water to al dente while the sauce is simmering. When the pasta is ready, ladle a spoonful of pasta water into the sauce before draining. Add the pasta directly to the sauce and mix up. Let the pasta simmer in the sauce for about 2 minutes before serving to soak up the juices. Serve with Piave or Parmesan cheese over the top.

Recipe #2: Back-Bacon Quick Grilled Flatbread Pizza
I am always in the mood for pizza, but making a dough from scratch usually takes several hours. Not this recipe. This is quick and super easy. It only takes about 15 minutes for the dough to rise, and another 15 to cook. Give it a shot.

For the Pizza Dough:
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup warm water 
1 packet active yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

For the pizza dough, dissolve the yeast and sugar into the warm water in a small bowl or measuring glass. Let sit for 5 minutes to foam up a bit. While yeast is sitting, combine salt and flour in a large bowl. Pour the water and yeast into the bowl with flour and work together with hands. Once combined, move to a floured surface and knead until dough forms a smooth ball. If dough is too dry, wet hands with cool water. If too wet, keep adding flour. Place dough in a clean dry bowl, covered by a wet kitchen towel. Let sit for 15-20 minutes in a warm place.

For the Toppings:
3 slices back-bacon
1 1/2 cups smoked Gouda (grated)
1 cup cilantro (loosely packed, no stems)
 2 tbsp bacon grease
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

While dough is rising, prep the other ingredients. Start by frying up the back-bacon. Heat skillet over medium-high heat and add a dash of olive oil (to make sure there is enough grease for the dough later). Fry the bacon for 5 minutes, turning once. Remove bacon and cut up into little pieces. Don't discard the bacon grease! Leave it in the pan to coat the pizza crust later. 

Heat grill or grill pan over high heat. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Dough should rise fairly quickly and be ready after 20 minutes. On a floured surface, knead the whole piece of dough out. Brush one side of the dough with the leftover bacon grease and throw it on the grill. Brush the other side with bacon grease, and season with salt and pepper.

Cook both sides for 3 minutes and remove onto a cutting board or counter. Spread a layer of honey habanero aioli over the crust. Next add the cilantro and the cheese. Add the pieces of bacon to the top.

Place the pizza back on the grill for 5 minutes. Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake for 5 minutes to make sure the cheese gets nice and melty, or put it under a broiler for 2 minutes for crispier cheese. Both variations are delicious.  

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