The strangely delicious Bacon & Marmalade Sandwich on Pumpernickel Toast. Recipe of sorts below.
Today’s post actually contains two recipes. Well, not so much recipes as ways to celebrate bacon. Bacon is the über meat in my book. I mean, I love a good steak, a juicy seared chop, a nice pot roast… [okay, so I guess I'm saying I love meat], but there’s just something about bacon. If the aroma of a chicken roasting in the oven is intoxicating [and it is], the smell of frying bacon is crack.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. I dated a vegetarian for a while who, when she fell off the wagon every few months or so, did not do it for a skinless chicken breast or a salmon fillet. It was almost always for bacon. Apparently, bacon is the transgression of choice among vegetarians. I’ve happened upon a number of posts on various blogs in which vegetarians admit as much.
There are entire blogs devoted to bacon, in fact. Most notably The Bacon Show, which posts a new bacon-using recipe every day “forever” [as its masthead promises].
And I totally understand. More birthdays than not, the birthday dinner I request from my wife Marion is her heavenly take on Pasta Carbonara. She dispenses with the heavy cream in her version, but in every other regard, it is a heart attack on a plate. You start by frying a pound of bacon. Then you cook zucchini in the bacon grease—you toss the pasta in it too. And you drizzle in raw egg. It is deadly but delicious. We used to eat it regularly, but have reluctantly come to our senses and now only eat it once or twice a year. When my birthday rolls around, I may have her do a post on it. With a surgeon general’s warning, of course.
Meanwhile back at bacon and marmalade on, uh, pumpernickel? I first heard about this about this concoction indirectly through a New York food blogger [the blog no longer exists, or I would have the link here]. She and a friend had eaten at Prune, chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s Manhattan bistro serving up what New York magazine describes as “the sort of unpretentious home cooking at which she excels, a grab bag of eccentric, multicultural influences that is, at heart, American.” Sounded like my kind of food, and it’s right around the corner from my favorite New York French bistro, Lucien. So I looked at Prune’s menu online, and this lunch item jumped out at me: Bacon and Marmalade Sandwich on Pumpernickel Toast—$9.
At first blush, it sounded like an Elvisworthy trainwreck of a meal, not unlike his beloved fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. But then the ultimate Britishness of it hit me. Not sure why, but probably it was the marmalade. I grew up in a grape jelly-eating household; when I first discovered marmalade as a college student, it was Dundee. Then it was sold in a stoneware crock. Now it comes in white, opaque glass jars, a cheaper way to suggest its crockery heritage, but it’s still made in the UK by James Keiller & Son, as it has been since 1797.
Googling “bacon and marmalade sandwich” bore out my suspicions. There was no recipe to be had, unfortunately, but there were wistful mentions of these sandwiches from Brit school days long past. And Melinda Schwakhofer, an American fiber artist now living in the UK, weaved it into one of her posts on her blog Inspiraculum thus: “I started off my creative day with elevenses, a snack that is similar to afternoon tea, but eaten in the morning. The name refers to the time of day that it is taken: around 11 am. I had a cup of English Breakfast tea with milk and one sugar, brewed in my favourite mug, and a bacon and marmalade sandwich on toast.” [Note the "ou" in favourite—she hasn't gone too native, has she?]
The closest I came to an actual recipe was another mention of Prune in New York magazine, more of a description, really, when it named the Prune version a sandwich of the week: “The key to making a good bacon-and-marmalade sandwich, it can now be revealed, is to spread the top piece of the grilled bread lavishly with butter and orange marmalade so that it trickles down, effectively coating and glazing the hot bacon as if it had been dragged through a car wash equipped with a marmalade spray gun.”
Close enough—and intriguing enough to try. Time to go shopping.
Making the sandwiches was brainlessly easy. Gathering the ingredients took a little more work. I found some decent bacon at Whole Foods—I wanted something other than the standard issue stuff, thicker, leaner slices. I found the Dundee marmalade at Treasure Island, a Chicago chain of supermarkets that is a great source for all things European. I started to get their classic Orange Marmalade, but then I saw their Three Fruits Marmalade, made with oranges, lemons and grapefruit—that sounded even livelier. And Marion found a nice, dense pumpernickel rye at a Polish bakery and sausage shop in our neighborhood. Here’s what I hesitate to even dignify with the term “recipe”:
Bacon & Marmalade Sandwich on Pumpernickel Toast
8 strips thick cut bacon
4 slices pumpernickel bread
orange marmalade [I actually used Dundee Three Fruits Marmalade]
Fry bacon in two batches or two large skillets, starting uncooked slices in a cold skillet and turning frequently until cooked through, but not until totally crisp—it will hold together better in the sandwich this way. Drain on paper towels.
Toast bread. Butter one slice for each sandwich generously, then apply liberal amounts of marmalade to the buttered slices. I used 2 tablespoons for each sandwich, but our slices of bread were small—about 3 inches by 4-1/2 inches. Arrange bacon on unbuttered slices of bread and top with buttered, marmalade-laden slices. Cut sandwiches in half and serve.
And now the verdict. It was really, really good. Really good. The first bite was as surprising as you might think, given the combination. But then the mixing of sweet and savory, with a little undertone of tart bitterness, began to kick in and it became just as complex and wonderful as you might also think. Make sure you use good ingredients if you decide to make this, though. With only three [four, if you count the butter], a bad one has no place to hide. In looking for marmalade, I saw quite a variety. But I doubt that Smuckers or even Polaner, geared toward the American palate as they are, would be as satisfyingly tart as the Dundee. If anyone has tried either of them and can tell me otherwise, I’d love to hear from you.
Oh. I promised you a second recipe of sorts, didn’t I? We went to the Logan Square Farmers Market in a failed attempt to find really primo, locally produced artisanal bacon. When I described the sandwich I was planning to make to one of the farmers [who said he would have bacon in a couple of weeks], he said his favorite sandwich was a twist on the classic BLT, or bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich [with mayonnaise on toast, preferably white toast]. The BAT, as he called it—a bacon, arugula and tomato sandwich. My first thought was this sounded amazing, with crunchy, peppery arugula beautifully replacing boring old iceberg lettuce. My second thought was, “Wait a minute. Farmers eat arugula?” It’s an amazing world, isn’t it?
Also this week in Blue Kitchen
Pioneering hard bop and an argument for time travel, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?
Eight-car pile up as art, in a suburban shopping mall at WTF? Random food for thought.