Hello babies and bibbles, and welcome to a smokey and salty edition of Will It Sous Vide?, the weekly column where I make whatever you want me to with my immersion circulator.
In spite of Carl's assertion that bacon was "played out," the salty cured pork product emerged as the winner of our topic-picking session, which I was not mad about. While I didn't believe that it would be bad bacon -- I trust Grant Crilly and his glorious mustache -- I just wasn't sure that it would be the be-all-end-all some were describing it as. (It did however sound like a good way to prep a whole bunch of it, as smeds pointed out in the comment below.) Basically, I was intrigued on a lot of levels, and just wanted to try it for myself.
Sarah Palin Denier then compounded my interest by pointing out that there probably are some really good uses for sous-vide bacon besides just eating it for breakfast:
To begin, I selected three different packs of bacon: a super cheap, thinly-sliced pack; a slightly more high-end, thicker, grocery store brand pack; and a super fancy, very thick-cut bacon that came from the deli counter. All three were chucked in a water bath set to 147℉ for 24 hours, and they all looked pretty different when they came out:
This was the cheapest bacon.
The mid-range stuff.
Mr. Fancy Pants With the exception of the thickest cut, there were some structural issues. This isn't that surprising when you consider that they were basically confited in their own fat for a long period of time, but it was still kind of sad to watch bacon fall apart in my (tiny, kind of childlike) hands.
I was able to carefully separate some slices from each pack, but it took a bit of finesse. Once I had a piece of each out of its pack, it was finishing time. Now, it's worth noting that preference plays a big role when it comes to getting the texture of bacon "just right." Some (me) like theirs super crispy, some (my misguided boyfriend) like theirs a little limp and chewy, and then are those who enjoy the texture of bacon cooked in the microwave, but I don't want to talk about them.
The two thinner pieces tasted like good, crisp bacon, with fatty portions that melted in my mouth in a manner that was quite pleasing. They were good, but nothing I hadn't tasted before, and nothing I couldn't achieve by frying.
The big boy was something different though. As promised, there was a crisp(ish) side and a tender side. The tender side looked like this:
V tender And the crispy side looked like this:
It was good -- very good! -- with a texture that was somewhere between pork belly and British rasher bacon, and a slight crunch on one side. I liked it, but it wasn't as crispy as I like my bacon, and here is where that personal preference comes into play. As a fan of super crispy bacon, this is not worth the time and energy it takes to get this result. If, however, you like a super meaty, chewier, almost ham-like bacon with little crispy regions, then this is definitely worth your time. So it's really up to you. Bacon is a very personal matter, and I'm not going to tell you that there's only one way to enjoy it.
In terms of convenience, the easiest way to crisp up a big batch of sous-vide bacon is to just pop it all in an oven set to 375℉ for about half an hour. You'll get hot, somewhat crispy, meaty bacon to feed a crowd without a single splatter, and that is not a bad thing at all.
Besides just straight up eating, there is another application for sous-vide bacon, and I'm pretty stoked about it.
If you are a fan of bacon-wrapped items, you have most likely noticed that it's hard to strike a balance between the thing being wrapped in bacon and the bacon itself. In the case of quickly-cooking seafood (such as bacon or shrimp), your bacon-wrapped item will finish cooking before the bacon, leaving you with a tough, overcooked piece of seafood and a flaccid piece of bacon. This all changes with sous-vide bacon though, as it's already cooked but still malleable; it just needs a bit of colour.
Though the thicker bacon is the best for straight-up chomping, the thinner slices really shine here. You are, however, going to want to separate them as soon as they come out of the water bath, once the slices cool and the fat congeals, separating them goes from "a delicate, but doable," procedure to "fucking impossible." Anywho, once I got the shrimp all wrapped up, I popped it in a 400-degree oven for six minutes.
We can do better. The shrimp was perfect, but the bacon was still a little limp and lacklustre, so I moved on to another method.
Here we go. Now this is how you bacon-wrap a shrimp. Seeing as I had a good bit of bacon grease at my disposal, I heated that up and cooked my pork-wrapped sea creatures for two minutes on one side and one minute on the other. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and, while the bacon wasn't shatteringly crispy, it still had a bit of a crunch to it, making this the best bacon-wrapped shrimp I'd ever had.
So then I upped the ante and moved onto scallops.
It's very unlike me to recommend any cooking oil over bacon grease, but for these scallops you're going to want to break out the butter. (It browns better and results in a better crust.) To make these babies, I heated the butter until it just started to brown, then seared each scallop for a minute and a half on each side.
The result was a super sweet, tender and juicy scallop, all wrapped up in wonderfully crisp bacon. This, to me, makes sous-vide bacon worth it. (And I'm sure all of you beautiful geniuses could think of even more tasty things to wrap this bacon in.)
But there's one more gift sous-vide bacon can us, and that is some really glorious candied stuff. Unlike my breakfast bacon, I like my candied bacon to be thicker and meatier -- I contain multitudes -- which can lead to the syrup burning before the bacon is cooked through. Once again, having an already cooked bacon fixes this issue. All I had to do to achieve a sticky-sweet-and-salty bacon treat was coat it in a brown sugar syrup (one cup water to two cups brown sugar), and cook it at 375℉ for about twenty minutes, applying more syrup and flipping every five minutes. (Not only did the syrup not burn but, since the bacon was already cooked, there wasn't any smoke due to grease.)
I see a lurking shape. So, going back to the tastiest of questions: Will bacon sous vide?
The answer: Yup, yes, definitely, but whether or not it's "worth it" is up to you. Personally, I won't be running my Anova overnight for breakfast bacon, but I will be making my candied bacon this way from now on, and it's changed my bacon-wrapped food game for good.
If you want a big batch of thick, flavorful bacon with a texture that's somewhere in between seared pork belly and ham, this is the cooking method for you. But if, like me, you're a member of the Super Crispy Bacon Breakfast Club, you can probably skip it. Unless you plan to bacon wrap some shrimp. Don't skip it in that case.