“Kosher Bacon?” my friend texted me after I asked her a technical question about how to prepare a sleeve of kosher bacon. “R u an Oxy-moron?”
I was a blank slate when it came to bacon. As I faced the empty skillet, I wondered: should I use oil to fry it? How will I know when it’s done? “Crispy” and “bacon” seemed to go together in my mind, but how crispy is crispy? Should it be toasty around the edges but still retain its chewy meatiness, or is it preferable to char it to a crunchy crisp?
I was wading into some unknown culinary territory. Even in my non-kosher days, I never crossed over to the pork side. Bacon was unclean, impure, unholy, piggish—too much baggage for my guilty Jewish heart to handle. That’s not to say that I wasn’t deeply curious and covetous of bacon, especially when poring over my cookbooks and foodie mags, hoping for a little culinary inspiration and excitement.
Then Jack’s came along. The purveyor calls their gourmet product “facon,” and it’s made from beef, not the soy or the other plant-based substance that I’d used to with other fake bacons. The first thing I wanted to make with the facon was a BLT, so I put strips of it on the stove and stared. I stared at the flimsy pink and white strips of meat as they sizzled and curled up in their own hot fat. I decided I wanted it crispy-just-shy-of-charred. Then I scooped the facon frills out and drained them on paper towels, just as I do with my latkes.
The bacon, placed between mayo-smeared toast, thinly sliced tomato, and soft creamy chunks of avocado, made this sandwich an eating experience worthy of a blessing. I prepared one for a neighbor, too, whose palate knew and loved the real thing. “A little greasier than I like,” she decreed, “but pretty damn good for a kosher bacon sandwich.” My kids and husband were too busy licking their fingers to weigh in.
I had discovered a deep new flavor and an irresistible texture. I began to understand the necessity for bacon fan clubs, tattooes, punchlines. I made a big fat bacon wrapped meatloaf that tasted so right, but was so wrong for any kind of healthful eating regimen. I was in love.
Even though I was used to dicing and frying Hod Lavan’s turkey bacon and sautéing brussel sprouts in its greasy wake—an ideal way to get my kids to eat their veggies—I scoffed for a moment when considering cooking with this kosher bacon for Shabbat. My guilty Jewish heart made me pause for a beat or two: bacon for Shabbat? There was just something wrong with it. What’s next? Challah made with lard?
I ran through my lines in my head: it’s not pig bacon, it’s turkey/beef/duck/lamb bacon (I was all over the Kosher bacon market by now). It’s kosher meat seasoned and cut in the manner of bacon. It is an incredible way to flavor your food and fill your mouth with rich savory-sweet-smokey flavor like nothing else can. It’d be ungrateful and downright foolish not to adapt my kosher recipes with this traditionally verboten flavor, I decided. My mind became bathed in the luscious full-sized picture of chicken thighs and dumplings with crispy bacon bits, just like the ones in my foodie mags.
I recalled an interview I’d heard on NPR with that late Jewish culinary historian Rabbi Gil Marks, in which he described Jewish food/Kosher cuisine not as innovative, but as adaptive to its communities and environments. When considering his words kosher bacon does not seem like an oxymoron in New York in the early 21st Century. It was then that I decided to spring for the good stuff—Grow and Behold’s bacon cubes—in honor of my Shabbat meal, which I closed by serving another oxymoron: a meat dessert.
And so, from my kosher to yours, here are two sure-fire, bacon-infused recipes for your enjoyment.
Bacon Mushroom Chicken with Gnocchi (6 servings)
6 oz. beef bacon cubes, or beef bacon slices cut into small pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
Salt & Pepper
6 chicken legs, about 3 lbs.
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
12 oz. sliced mixed mushrooms
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 ½ – 3 cups chicken stock
6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme
16 oz. gnocchi
— *Crisp bacon in a large oven-proof pan over medium-high heat, remove from pan and allow to drain on paper towels.
— Place flour in a shallow pan. Season chicken legs with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken legs in flour, shaking off excess flour before cooking chicken skin side down in the hot bacon grease, until golden brown (12-15 minutes). Flip chicken and cook the other side for 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter.
— Cook chopped onions and garlic in the pan for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Pour in white wine and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, mixing together until the liquid is mostly evaporated (1 minute).
— Add sliced mushrooms and stir into onion mixture until shiny and slightly browned (1-2 minutes). Pour in the chicken stock, return the chicken to the pan, scatter sprigs of thyme on top. Heat oven to 300 F.
— Allow to simmer uncovered on the stove top until oven reaches the desired temperature. Cover pan and place in oven and cook for 1 ½ hours.
— To serve: Prepare gnocchi according to package directions. Place chicken with mushroom sauce on top of a platter or bowl of prepared gnocchi. Garnish with the reserved crisped bacon. Yum!
* If the bacon is sufficiently marbled with fat you do not need to supplement with cooking oil to crisp; it will sizzle in its own fat. However I have discovered turkey bacon could sometimes use a jump-start with a drop or two of oil.
3 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Freshly ground pepper
½ lb. thick cut beef bacon
— Preheat oven to 350 F.
— Mix all ingredients, except for bacon, in a small bowl.
— Space bacon slices over a cooling rack placed over a baking sheet (to catch the grease).
— Bake for 10 minutes and then flip pieces over and bake for 5 minutes. Brush the brown sugar mixture on both sides and then bake for 5 minutes.
— Flip the bacon and brush with the brown sugar mixture in 5-minute increments for 40 minutes. Allow to cool.