Bacon is a name for certain cuts of meat taken from the sides or back or belly of a pig, cured and possibly smoked. It is generally considered a breakfast dish, cut into thin slices before being fried, or grilled. It is commonly used as an ingredient in recipes, and is valued both as a source of fat and for its flavour.
A side of unsliced bacon is known as a flitch. An individual slice of bacon is called a rasher. Traditionally the skin is left on the cut and is known as bacon rind. Rindless bacon is also available as a healthier alternative.
Curing and smoking
Curing means preserving with salt. The traditional dry-cure process involves taking the meat and rubbing it, over a number of days, with dry salt or a mixture of salt, sugar and spices. It is then left to hang for up to 2 weeks in order for the moisture to be drawn out. It must then be left to cure in a cool, dry, airy environment for anything up to 9 months. Less time is needed if it is going to be smoked.
The alternative wet-cure process (which produces Wiltshire bacon) involves immersing the meat in brine for 2 to 3 days. Sweetcure bacon is produced by adding sugar to the brine and maple cure bacon has added maple syrup. Modern mass produced bacon uses the wet-cure process but also involves pumping additional water and phosphates directly into the flesh to speed up the process and add bulk. However, this is directly at the expense of flavour. The meat must then be left to hang for approximately 2 weeks until it is cured.
Smoking is used to impart more flavour into the bacon and also to speed up the curing process. Unsmoked bacon is sometimes known as green bacon. Smoked bacon is traditionally produced by allowing the cured meat to hang in a room over a bed of smoking wood chips. Using different varieties of wood (such as apple, beech, cherry, hickory or oak) gives the cured bacon different flavours. Cold smoking, involves leaving the joints at a low temperature fire for anything up to 2-3 weeks. Hot smoking involves using a much higher temperature where the meat is partially cooked over a few days.
Cuts of bacon
Most bacon consumed in the UK is back bacon (also called short back bacon). This is known as Canadian bacon in the United States. The cut comes from the loin in the middle of the back of the animal. It is a lean meaty cut of bacon, with relatively less fat compared to other cuts.
Middle bacon is much like back bacon but is cheaper and somewhat fattier. Collar bacon is taken from the back of a pig near the head. Streaky bacon (the most common form of bacon in the United States) comes from the belly of a pig. It is very fatty with long veins of fat running parallel to the rind. Pancetta is Italian streaky bacon, smoked or green (unsmoked), with a strong flavour.
Gammon is Wiltshire cured bacon rolled into a joint. It is often boiled or baked. Boiled Bacon And Cabbage a traditional Irish recipe uses a gammon joint.
Although Britain has a large pork and bacon industry, much of bacon consumed in Britain is produced in Denmark, and marketed as Danish bacon (the word "Danish" is stamped on the rind). In 1999 the Conservative Party leader at the time, William Hague, called for a ban on Danish bacon. He claimed that Britain's strict animal welfare regulations meant that British pig farmers could not compete with Danish producers who use a so-called "stall and tether" system.