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Cooking with bacon: It's a national fetish!

In the dim, faraway days of youth, bacon

In the dim, faraway days of youth, bacon was merely a cut-rate substitute for the meat your parents couldn't afford. Now, all of a sudden, it's a craze. Credit: iStock

I am here today to quash an insidious rumor that has spread throughout the worlds of those who cook and those who eat:

No, bacon does not make everything better. Not everything.

Sure, it is unbeatable on toast with lettuce and tomato or sitting proudly in melted Cheddar cheese atop a hamburger. Wrapped around a scallop? Delicious. Wrapped around a filet mignon? Even better.

But let's face it: No one is ever going to make a bacon-flavored toothpaste. Right?

Oh, wait: A company called Accoutrements now makes bacon-flavored toothpaste. Bacon, in fact, has become more than a mere flavoring agent, it has become something of a nationwide fetish.

Yes, you can buy bacon-flavored dental floss, wear bacon-shaped bandages and inhale bacon-scented air fresheners. But those are (one hopes) gag gifts. More serious is bacon vodka, which is used to make bakon martinis (so spelled because they use Bakon brand vodka) with olives stuffed with blue cheese.

Bacophile chefs have been combining bacon with chocolate for the past few years, enthusing about how the smokiness of the bacon enhances the rich flavor of the chocolate. And then there is bacon ice cream, which is surprisingly popular -- or at least surprisingly available.

A company called J&D's (its motto is "Everything should taste like bacon") has come out with bacon-flavored salt, bacon-flavored popcorn, bacon-flavored ranch dressing and bacon-flavored mayonnaise, which admittedly would be pretty great on, say, a turkey sandwich. If you go to a diner now and order some eggs with a couple of strips of regular old bacon, the waitress might look at you like you're crazy.

 

JUMBO SHRIMP WRAPPED IN BACON WITH CURRIED MAYONNAISE 

In her book "Seduced by Bacon" (Lyons Press, $14.95), Joanna Pruess suggests using applewood-smoked bacon for this recipe, if you can find it, although any thinly sliced bacon, including turkey, will work.

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon hot or medium jarred curry paste, according to taste, or 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

24 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

24 slices thin-cut, lean bacon

1. Combine the mayonnaise and curry paste (or powder) in a small serving bowl. Set aside.

2. Wrap each shrimp in a slice of bacon. Starting at the head end, wrap one end of the slice around the shrimp and tuck it under the first turn. Gently pulling each slice lengthwise, wrap the whole shrimp, ending at the tail end and tucking the end of the bacon under the last wrap. Secure the tail end with a toothpick stuck through the bacon and up the center of the shrimp.

3. Set a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook over medium-high heat until the bacon is crisp and the shrimp are just cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes, turning the shrimp often to cook all the sides. Remove and blot on paper towels. Serve with curried mayonnaise, using the toothpick to dip the shrimp. Makes 24.

 

BRUSSELS SPROUTS BRAISED WITH APPLE AND BACON 

James Villas reveals in "The Bacon Cookbook" (Wiley, $35) that he never liked Brussels sprouts until he combined them with sweet apples and smoky bacon. He recommends hickory-smoked bacon for this recipe.

1 quart fresh Brussels sprouts

2 slices lean bacon, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon butter

1 cooking apple, cored and cut into chunks

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch of grated nutmeg

1. Remove and discard any wilted leaves from the sprouts, trim off the stems (but not too close or the sprouts will fall apart), cut an X in the base of each sprout, and set aside.

2. In a large heavy skillet (not cast iron), fry the bacon over moderate heat till it releases its fat, then add the butter to the fat then the sprouts, and stir gently till they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the apple and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and nutmeg, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook till the sprouts are tender and the apple has softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings. 

 

Bacon by mail 

The bacon craze, inevitably, has inspired a number of retailers to offer mail-order bacon clubs. All of them have the same basic setup: Every month brings a shipment of artisanal bacon, the type that's hard to find in local stores. Here are three reputable options:

The Pig Next Door offers two clubs, "traditional" and "heirloom," whose bacon comes from heritage breeds such as Berkshire and Duroc. Traditional prices range from $99 (one package a month for six months) to $299 (two packages a month for 12 months). Heirloom prices are higher, and there's no 12-month option. Details at thepignextdoor.com.

Bac'n will send you two packages of bacon every month for three, six or 12 months. Prices, respectively, are $149.99, $289.99 and $420.95. Bac'n also offers a nitrate-free club ($149.99 for three months) and a no-pepper club ($149.99 for three months, $240.95 for six). Details at bacn.com.

Bacon Freak offers a pay-as-you-go monthly club for $49.95 a month as well as three, six or 12-month subscriptions ($145.95, $269.95 and $475.95, respectively). Nitrate-free club is $155.95 (three months) or $269.95 (six months); no-pepper bacon is $145.95 (three months) or $269.95 (six months). Details at baconfreak.com. -- ERICA MARCUS

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