Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Bacon Sighting in Mississippi

I love bacon.

I love very kind of bacon; I like Applewood Smoked Bacon, Hickory Smoked Bacon, Unsalted Bacon, Salted Bacon, Thick Cut Bacon, Thin Cut Bacon (though it's never advertised as such, is it?), Regular Bacon, Oscar Meyer Bacon, Boars Head Bacon, Fresh Bacon, Pounds of Bacon, Bits of Bacon, Bacon Flavored Other Foods.  Basically, if it's fatty and meaty and sliced from a porker, I will eat it.  I would eat it in everything I cook if this wasn't terrible for me -- or, more accurately, if other people would eat my food with me if I'd put bacon in all of it.  The only requirement be that it is pan-fried bacon.

How else would one prepare bacon, you ask?  Let me enlighten you.

When you go to a diner and order 'bacon,' what you are ordering is what once was bacon put on a baking sheet and left in the oven until it was removed and put on your plate.  This is not, I repeat, not, bacon.  Bacon is cooked in it's own grease until it is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside (YES, this is possible.  Good bacon is both chewy and crispy).  Bacon must be flipped so that both sides are exposed to heat and the puckerings of fat are not allowed to take the associated meat away from the heat.  Also, the puckerings of fat should still be crispy.  The last thing bacon should be is dry.

Unfortunately, dryness is a direct result of baking something on low heat for a long period of time.  There is such a plethora of fat in most strips of bacon it seems impossible to sap it, but it is.  All you have to do is cook it so long all the fat leaves.  This is when bacon burns.

The interesting thing about baking bacon is that if it's done at a low enough temperature, it's going to take a long time to blacken-burn it.  Any length of time is going to make the bacon taste burnt and dry, but it doesn't look burnt.  It just looks dry and flat and brownish.  The con-artists in most diners are counting on this deceit: it won't look like you've burned it so it can be served.  So I have basically given up ordering bacon in diners, though it is one of my favorite foods.  It is also one of the only things I can theoretically eat in diners.

But then we were in Mississippi last weekend.  After taking pictures at the statehouse, I stopped a guy on the street.  We had a nice conversation about how we were both doing that fine Sunday morning.  I asked him where I should go for a good Mississippi breakfast, and he took me to the corner where my car was, showed me exactly where to turn, and gave me otherwise excellent directions.  Except that I haven't been in the South for long enough that I'm no good at accents.  So, I couldn't understand the name of the street he told me the truck stop was on.  Gatlin?  Gaitlin?  Gataling?  Galveston?  Galston?  Golston?  Golsting?  Gosling?  Eh, we got in the car anyway.  It was Gaitlin.  We got off the highway and pulled up to the truck stop he'd recommended, exactly where he'd said it would be.

The boys all ordered chicken fried steak with sausage gravy, which I thought was ridiculous, because everybody knows that sausage-and-cream gravy goes with biscuits, and chicken or steak-and stock gravy goes with chicken fried steak.  Like, duh.  When I ribbed the fellas about this, the waiter gave me a twinkle-eyed look... so I broke my rule about ordering bacon in restaurants.

Oh man, was it worth it.

That bacon was greasy and chewy but crispy on the edges; it was puckered like it should be and a teensy bit black at the ends.  There were pink bits.  It wasn't so crispy it could be broken into bits, but it gave a satisfying amount of resistance to my teeth when I took a bite.  I could go on about the qualities of this bacon for pages, but I think discussing it too much would subtract from the perfection.  Indeed, it was a rich, sweet, savory experience, worthy of a poet better than me.

My faith in humanity isn't low or tenuous; I believe quite strongly that all people are basically good and that the world is a beautiful place; I expect that there will be moments of actual peace in my life every day and that God in some form will come to me when I need it, whether I know it or not.  But somehow, despite my already intense faith in the beauties of existence, eating three pieces of perfect bacon in a truck stop in Mississippi made my certainty that there is good everywhere infinitely stronger.  I like that the world can be good enough that better sounds like an impossibility... until it isn't.

I have a rule about not ordering bacon.  I broke it because of a twinkle in an eye, and I was repaid with three perfect slices.  We live in a beautiful world, do we not?



    'nouf said

  2. okay, addendum: it is permissible to bake, smoke, or bbq bacon IF it involves sausage (ie, the Bacon Explosion or the Turducken).