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Dec 14, 2007 10:04 AM

But why, Julia, am I simmering my bacon?

I've been teaching myself to cook for a couple years with Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I've found several recipes that call for bacon to be simmered for 10 minutes before thrown in the pot or pan. What's the purpose of all this simmering?

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  1. Is it bacon or salt pork you're simmering? Well, in either case it's to remove the salt (in salt pork) or to remove (reduce) the smoke, salt, and any other flavorings in bacon. It's important to know that "bacon" today ain't what it was when Julia wrote either volume of MAFC!

    If you can find really good salt pork with not too much streaking (not much meat, mostly fat) that's probably going to be the closest you can get to what was standard when she wrote the books. But really good salt pork is difficult to find.

    She explains this on page 15 of Volume I, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in the chapter titled "Ingredients." As she says there, the standard in France when she wrote the book was "lard de poitrine fraise." The U.S. has never had an equivalent unless you knew a hog farmer who slaughtered too. *Sometimes*, if you can find a really old fashioned butcher shop with a real live butcher behind the counter you can actually talk to, he might be able to provide you with it, but only if they get their hogs/pigs whole.

    Otherwise, buy the very best extra thick sliced bacon you can find. "Gourmet" (I hate the overuse of that word, and here I am doing it!) bacon will be your best bet because it will (hopefully) have fewer chemicals, and the smoke will be natural, not chemicals.

    Good luck!

    15 Replies
    1. re: Caroline1

      "lard de poitrine fraise"

      Not having a charcuterie book handy, is that something other than what it sounds like, fresh pork belly, or is it somehow processed other than by salting or curing?

      If the former, it should be readily obtainable as a matter of course at Chinese and maybe other Asian butchershops, if you live where there are any. Maybe other Asian places too, though I've never seen it in my local Korean supermarket, and only seen it thinly sliced, and only in the largest Japanese markt I know of around here (Mitsuwa in northern NJ.)

      1. re: MikeG

        Yes, "lard de poitrine fraise" is fresh, unsalted, unsmoked bacon. "Lard de fume" is the French smoked bacon. They have both kinds readily available, but smoked bacon that isn't "de-smoked" by boiling will make whatever dish you use it in taste like bacon. .

        I've only seen thin presliced "fresh bacon" in oriental markets, when I've seen any bacon at all. On the other hand, I wasn't particularly looking for it. Good thought! I'll have to give it a try.

        I did check with my local butcher shop just now (cat's curiosity), and they can get fresh unsaltted unsmoked bacon for me, but it comes in a minimum slab size of 8 pounds, and he has to special order it from his distributor. It will cost about $24.00. I;m thinking! I'm thinking! In view of the fact that I had to throw away the last Hormel salt pork I bought at a local supermarket because it was ransid (I know, I should have taken it back!), maybe having a lifetime supply in the freezer isn't such a bad idea... hmmmm

        1. re: Caroline1

          At the butchers in NYC's Chinatown(s) anyway, it's sold in pieces, but much smaller than a whole slab, for about the same money the last time I saw, don't know what it's up to know. I all but guarantee it'll be more expensive at a Japanese place but it will be pre-sliced and, actually, very fatty meats/foods don't freeze that well for the long haul so unless you expect to use it within a year or so, or have a chest freezer, you'll probably end up chucking a frustrating amount of it...

          1. re: MikeG

            Or I could always gift wrap it and give some to all of the cooks I know for Christmas... '-)

            1. re: Caroline1

              Just make sure you check for pets before you leave them under their trees. (lol)

                1. re: toodie jane

                  Just look for the gift wrap with grease spots breaking through. '-)

            2. re: Caroline1

              Buy it, buy it, buy it! Cut it into slices you will use and freeze those slices for barding lean birds or roasts, salt some of it (google salting pork belly and find a recipe that works for you; I have found less salting time works best), use it to saute while making a nice bean dish. Tastes so much better than supermarket bacon in applications where the "sweet" taste of pork is preferable to the "smake" taste of bacon. Heck, Keep a hunk in your fridge and use it to grease a skillet for making pancakes or frying eggs. Nice fresh pork fat is truly a lovely ingredient when well used.

              Try it , even if you do give some for gifts (can I be on your list:-) ).


              1. re: cayjohan

                Sorry, can't edit: "smake" = "smoke."

                1. re: cayjohan

                  Love the encouragement! Thank you. I've been using it for years. It's just that I moved a couple of years ago and haven't found a reliable supply yet. But maybe I have!

                  P.S. I may be the only one (or at least one of the few) on these boards who actually owns a larding needle. AND keeps it handy. '-)

          2. re: Caroline1

            You simer because french bacon isn't smoked, american bacon is/can be really salty and when the book was written pork belly wasn't used except to make bacon. As noted, fesh pork belly is definitely available at most Asian markets. I used to shop at 99 ranch in CA and it came in big hunks. I always thought the pre-sliced stuff was for hot pot.

            As for really good bacon, try a open air farmer's market. Where I live, I can get bacon to DIE for--after eatting it, I know what my grandmother was complaining about all these years...................

            1. re: Caroline1

              Thanks for all the info! I already grabbed plain old American bacon, though I almost grabbed packaged salt pork belly instead (my supermarket carries it, probably b/c it caters to a lot of asian and hispanic folk). Sounds like I'll be better off grabbing that next time.

              1. re: Discoethan

                I am getting all nostalgic here, I taught myself about classical cooking techniques from that very book, with Julia looking over my shoulder, 45 years ago or so. Bonne chance! Julia knows EVERYTHING.

              2. re: Caroline1

                I wonder if you could use pancetta since it’s cured but not smoked and is readily available in most supermarkets these days.

                1. re: TomDel

                  Intereesting thought, but unless pancetta is a lot cheaper where you live than it is where I live, it would be kind of like substituting Belgian endive for iceberg lettuce. '-)

                  But the economy of it would depend entirely on what sort of "lardon" a dish calls for. And as with everything else, in today's world traditional meanings are becoming blurred.

                  If you're using "lardons" for a salad garnish, they're usually cut in fairly small cubes, rendered, and the fat may or may not be used in the salad, along with the "lardons." And in this instance, it wouldn't be fine (great even?) if an exceptional grade of good bacon or even pancetta was used. Cook's choice.

                  If you're making something like boeuf Bourguignon or coq au vin that traditionally call for "lardons", then the lardons are a bit larger than those for salads, and should NOT be salted or flavored, but just plain fat from the pork belly. Fat back can also be used. But sometimes bacon or salt pork are all that is available, so the tradition of blanching bacon for these dishes. I think it would be a huge waste of pancetta in these recipes.

                  If you're using "lardons" to lard a whole tenderloin, a very lean game bird, or any lean game, then the lardons are cut in what is probably easiest to describe as a "julienne," about a half centimeter in width and depth, then depending on the recipe, up to 3 centimeters long. I mentioned earlier having a larding needle, an instrument with a handle on one end and a long slotted tube that is sharply pointed on the end and has a "platform" with a handle on it that slides up and down the interior of the tube. To lard a whole tenderloin, for example, you cover the top and sides with dozens and dozens of lardons that are insterted by puncturing the meat with the larding needle, then sliding the pre-loaded lardon into the flesh by pushing the larding needle's interior platform so it forces the lardon into the opening, but about half still sticking out like a quill. A properly lardoned tenderloin looks something like a long porcupine when you're through. The roasted tenderloin is richly "juicy" from the lardon's fat melting into it during roasting, and the crispy lardon exteriors are delicious. While you *can* use this method on game birds, as they were on fancy bird presentations in ages past (think whole peacock roasted with damp towel wrapped tail feathers and head on and small lardons for "feathers" on the body during roasting, then the tail fanned and the beak and feet gilded in 24k gold leaf for serving way back in the Days of Gastronomic Decadence), often as not today the pork belly is simply cut into thin sheets and laid across the bird, or caul fat is used.

                  Anyway, I think pancetta woul be great as "salad lardons," and probably add a nice dimension, but for larding a tenderloin, well... it wouldn't cost as much as the tenderloin, but I stand by my Belgian endive/iceberg lettuce analogy! '-)

              3. concerning curing additives today, this is an informative article from the u. of minn, re nitrites:

                1. is fat back smoked?
                  if not, can that be used?