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Oct 25, 2008 03:51 PM

Please Define Bacon For A British Visitor

Hello, I'm a newbie UK chowhound and I was just wondering what people from manhattan mean when they say Bacon? I am going to be visiting Manhattan for the first time in a couple of months (very excited about all the food adventures I am going to have) and although this is a question that has been on my mind for a while, it seems particularly relevant now. You might think it's a very odd question, but in my experience US bacon has always been very different to UK bacon. The US bacon I have had has always been very streaky and very crispy. UK bacon tends to be leaner and much meatier. Soz if this is a bit of a derail, but I have difficulty picturing it all otherwise...

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  1. In the USA, the most commonly available bacon is streaky bacon. This is typically thinly sliced pieces of slab bacon. Slab bacon is cured and/or smoked pork belly with rind and streaks of lean meat. It's about 2/3rds fat, and 1/3rd meat. Smokiness varies.

    English bacon aka "back bacon" is different. It is meatier and leaner. It's the cured and/or smoked part of the lower pig loin, with a ring of fat. It's hard to find UK style bacon in the USA. In the USA, the closest you get to UK style bacon is Canadian bacon, BUT Canadian bacon refers to only the lean part of the lower pig loin.

    1. Definition: Bacon in the U.S. = deiciousness and depth of flavor. Used in so many dishes (clam chowder, baked beans, BLT's- You MUST get a good BLT while you're here, though tomato season is near an end..........) There are probably 200 or more brands to try, from artisanal style to supermarket crap, but they're all good. Never met a bacon I didn't like!! I'm partial to the thinner and leaner variety, but it's all a matter of taste. Enjoy your Bacon Tour 2008- Bacon-palooza!! Adam

      7 Replies
      1. re: adamshoe

        Most Bacon actually ruins clam chowder because it's smoked and the smokiness becomes overwhelming. The best fish and clam chowder is made using fat back or salt pork (from the sides).

        Also - for the OP - there are a number of styles of US bacon, some are cured using nitrites, others only with salt, they are smoked for varying times and cut to varying thicknesses.

        1. re: applehome

          Because American bacon typically has a marked flavor of hickory, that's especially why it doesn't belong in a proper seafood chowder.

          1. re: Karl S

            ...unless you LIKE it that way! I once got into a protracted argument with a food writer on this subject, I in Tennessee and he in Maine (and this was back in the snail-mail days!). To the Southern palate the taste of smoke enhances seafood flavor, just as saffron does for the Iberian aficionado.

            The ultra-mild applewood-smoked stuff I'm now getting in SoCal would barely overwhelm the flavor of potato!

            1. re: Will Owen

              Tra-di-tion. Not that I think Tevye would care about some treif soup. But traditional clam and fish chowders in New England are not thickened with roux and are not made with bacon. I've made it with store-bought bacon when I haven't had any salt-pork or fatback, and I think it really suffers. But Karl is right - it's the strong hickory smoke flavor of most commercial bacon that doesn't belong, perhaps applewood or lightly smoked bacon would do just fine. But so many chowders being served here in New England (even those that win the chowder contests) are anything but traditional, so at this point, you could probably pass off tonkotsu ramen thickened with corn starch as chowder and win a contest or two.

              1. re: applehome

                Hickory-smoked bacon for New England clam chowder is as appropriate as...boiling ribs for BBQ. Both are common and beloved by them that do them. Both just ain't right.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Unless you happen to believe, as I do, that whatever tastes really, really good to YOU is precisely right. If I were going to make a seriously authentic chowder, whether clam or fish, I would never use anything but salt pork. I have done this and probably will again. And if I were cooking ribs for a contest or something I'd be damned sure to do them 100% in a proper dry smoker, with a slow wood fire going, NOT in the oven and NOT over gas or charcoal. But I never do that. I cook the ones my wife and I like to eat, and to hell with authenticity.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    I think that's absolutely right.

                    When you've had a chance to try it all, to see what the authentic is all about and understand the variations - why the traditional versions became what they are over time... even to the understanding of the science (eg - boiling meat extracts meat flavor), then all you can argue about is personal taste. When it comes to chowder, I like lots of pieces of clams to chew, and I really enjoy the flavor of the sea and of the clams. Some folks actually prefer not to taste or feel the clams in clam chowder - they use cans of minced, rather than chopped sea clams, and more water and chicken stock than clam juice, they want adjunct flavors to mask the clams. (Like Long John Silver's old logo - Fish That Doesn't Taste Like Fish!)

                    It's when someone makes pronouncements of authenticity with non-authentic product that I get ticked off. The use of labels, like barbeque (barbecue, BBQ, cue, que, q, etc.) or New England Clam Chowder ought to carry a meaning. Despite the many variations of these products, certain traits ought to be consistent with the labels, something you obviously recognize.

                    Other than that, it's just a matter of taste. A matter of opinion. While I have not liked any version of hickory smoked bacon chowder or par-boiled ribs I've ever had to date, I might think that yours are delicious. Unfortunately, we'll never know, and it doesn't matter - you're not trying to please me. It matters here only insofar as people listening to us might decide to try something or another - and of course that's easily decided - it's the chowhound ethos - try everything, and make up your own mind!

      2. American bacon is a slaob of cured smoked pork belly heaven. It is best with anything. Or alone. It comes from the underside of the pig, is cured in sugar and salt, and smoked, sometimes in hickory, other times in applewood. I prefer the thick cut type, cooked until it is very crispy.

        1. US bacon is streaky bacon.
          That's all you need to know.
          Don't forget all the other things that are different too - a "pint", chips = crisps, etc.
          Have a great time!

          1. It's streaky bacon. And we don't call them rashers, we call them pieces or strips. As others have said, it's very very difficult to get British bacon here -- save the bacon butties till you get back home (but do try a BLT).

            Remember too, a pint in the US is 454 mL of liquid, unless you're in a place that specialises in "proper British pints" of beer.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Actually we do have back bacon, Irish bacon and what not in Manhattan. Not to mention Canadian bacon, tocino, maple-flavored bacon, fresh bacon...NYC is a very pork-obsessed town.

              1. re: JungMann

                Sure, and you can get all of those things in LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami or Chicago... but it still requires a special trip and potentially a bunch of research.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  UG, the Fresh & Easy markets now opening here in SoCal are carrying an American-made British-style back bacon that is very good.

                  1. re: Will Owen


                    Thanks. In AZ, we've had a bit of the Tesco Fresh & Easy openings. My wife (who shops Tesco, London, Mayfair) has picked up some items, but I've yet to go. Now, I must, just to see what bacon they offer in the AZ shops.

                    Personally, as a yank, who dines in the UK often, I still favor most of the US bacons, but then I grew up in the Deep South, and cannot help myself.


                2. re: JungMann

                  Thank you for the additions (and maybe clarifications).

                  I have seen "bacon," and similar creeping into more menus around the globe, and especially outside the "traditional" South.