Monday, December 7, 2009

Cider-Braised Bacon -OR- To Be An Idea Guy, You'll Need Some Ideas

My friend Alan Sytsma calls himself an idea guy, which, admittedly, he is. Once, when asked what his first move after winning the lottery might be, he swiftly explained his thoughts for a chinchilla waterfall, over which chinchillas would cascade, like lemmings, from a man-made cliff in a constant and self-recycling stream. I think he even said the chinchillas should be died pink. Now that is an idea.

Alan also happens to be a food guy.

Which is how, two years ago, when everyone else was all ga-ga for pork belly, he decided instead to braise some bacon in home-pressed Knauer farm apple cider and bourbon. That's the kind of idea that really seals the deal, if you want to be an idea guy.

I make Alan's cider-braised bacon all the time. I've told many people about it, too. So here, (before others lay any claim) written on the never-changing stone tablets of the Internet, the idea was Alan's. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try it out for yourself.

First step, find a thick chunk of slab bacon. You'll have to go to a butcher for this. When you do, ask them for the thickest chunk they've got. The amount is up to you. How much bacon do you eat? A lot? Then get a lot. Just make sure it's all in one piece.

This fine specimen is Polish double-smoked bacon and was smoked for 24 hours.

To cook it, place your bacon in an appropriately sized baking dish. Then, pour apple cider and some bourbon over the bacon until it's not quite covered. The proportion is mostly cider and a little bourbon. No need to heat the liquid first and no salt required; bacon is salty. If you want to be fancy, add a bay leaf and some peppercorns. But you don't need to be fancy. It's cider-braised bacon; it's not fancy. Cover the dish with foil and braise it in the oven at 350°F for 4 hours. Don't skimp on the braising time. When it's done, the bacon will fall apart when you poke it with a fork and feel like a baby's butt when you poke it with your finger.

Here's a time-lapse video of cider-braised bacon featuring Dolly, Kenny, and Elvis.

After the bacon is braised, uncover the dish and let it cool in the liquid. This is an important step. The meat absorbs a lot of flavor and moisture as it cools. When it's finally room temperature, wrap it in plastic wrap and keep it chilled.

The bacon can live in your fridge for a month, but it won't last that long, because it's just about the best thing you've eaten.

When you think you're ready, slice 1/4-inch-thick slices and sear them in a skillet. They brown quickly, due to the sugar in the cider, so pay attention.

Serve the bacon with eggs for breakfast, on the-best-BLT-you've-ever-had-in-your-life for lunch, or as dinner with sauerkraut.

Fried egg + hot sauce + cider-braised bacon = breakfast

And think of this guy, the idea guy, as you enjoy.

Here, Alan selects just the right apples for his cider.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


It's common knowledge that Thanksgiving's leftovers are the best of the year. A turkey sandwich, piled with cranberry sauce and cold gravy, can cure anything. So our decision to roast a goose was a slight oversight. Geese, unlike their overbreed turkey cousins, do not have ginormous tatas. Our goose easily fed 8 hungry adults, but that was it. There were NO LEFTOVERS!

It wasn't until Friday morning that I found a glimmer of hope. I had forgotten to add the goose neck and giblets to the gravy. That was all I had; parts, a little cranberry sauce, some goose fat, and a bottle of hard cider. To me, that spells rillettes.

First off, I heated some of the cider with a little gelatin and set it in the bottom of a ramekin with the cranberries. Then, it was fat-rendering time.

That's a goose neck, I swear.

The neck, gizzard, heart and liver all simmered away in the fat with a bay leaf, a garlic clove, and some spices for a long time. I'm not sure exactly how long because I was downing the rest of the hard cider. Remember, it was Friday morning, so things were a little hazed, but probably, like, 2 hours.

Bubble, bubble....

I let the confit-ed parts cool, shredded them, and placed them over the cranberry gel. After I woke up from a long nap, it was time to chow down on the goose neck rillettes; quite possibly some of the best Thanksgiving leftovers I've ever had.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

After Apple Picking -OR- Where Robert Frost Went Wrong

There are two ancient apple trees on the farm. Best guesses place them over the age of eighty, but no one is really sure. One is a yellow variety, probably close to a Delicious, and the other is similar to what we know as a McIntosh, but tangy like a Granny Smith. The last few years brought some pretty terrific apple crops. This year, due largely to the disgusting weather, there was far less fruit. But apple-picking day is not really about quantity; it's about making cider with what apples are ripe and drinking whatever's left of last year's hard cider.

Robert Frost, of course, had that great poem about carefully picking apples from the boughs by hand, making sure they didn't hit the ground, then growing so weary from the long day on the ladder he wishes for nothing more than to hibernate like a woodchuck. Seriously, he wrote that. Except, when he wrote it, it was pretty.

Our apple picking didn't end pretty, like Frost's poem does, but at least "overtired" was not an appropriate description of our state of mind.

First, Cecily, my sister, climbes the trees. She's always been limber, and only fell out once, so she still has the job. There's no "Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall", either. She just shakes like an epileptic and brings apples plummeting to the ground. They bruise and break, but who cares? They're meant for the "apple-cider heap".

Above, Cecily, making it rain apples, like dolla' dolla' bills, y'all.

We gathered the apples in the trailer of the tractor, drove them down the hill to the house and washed them off. This is when we started drinking last year's hard cider and a few growlers that Alan and Jesse picked up from the near-by Sly Fox brewery.

(On a side note, I love typing the word brewery. It's like playing that children's song on the piano, using only the black keys.)

We've got this old cider press that lives in the barn. It's slow going, but that doesn't really matter, it still works. We all took turns rotating from job to job. Drinking, naturally, is included in the work rotation.

A few hours later we ended up with something like fifteen gallons of fresh cider. Most people took some home and I put five gallons in a bucket to ferment for next year. It was a fine day.

Here, Jesse York, beverage expert and cider drinker, at the end of a long, hard day. Sara Bomberger took these nice photographs, including this one of Jesse and his take-home.

More later about hard cider and cooking with cider where we will undoubtedly hear more from Alan, the guy in this next picture.
Alan, having more fun on apple-picking day than Robert Frost had in his entire life.