THE BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE OF BACON & WHISKEY
In the rapidly evolving world of modern cuisine, few dual ingredients have truly redefined the term, “perfect pairing” like bacon and whiskey. Each with their own respective rich gustative histories, bacon and whiskey both boast fanatic followings and a deep pride in preparation. Bacon’s surprising origins story combined with its thriving popularity amongst millennials has arrested the attentions of chefs worldwide, impacting menu innovation to an astonishing degree. In similar fashion, whiskey’s complex and multi-national history, while steeped in tradition, has inspired an excitement for invention throughout the cooking community. Whether as an absolutely delectable duo or as equally strong individual ingredients, bacon and whiskey are the veritable new frontier of finely crafted food.
Be it breakfast, brunch, or burgers, bacon has made its way into the modern palate with the utmost ubiquity. With a history tracing back to ancient China, bacon, or “bacoun” as it was originally called in Middle English, was the term originally used for all types of cured pork. And while the name stems from a melange of cultures and languages – the French “bako”, old High German “bakko”, Old Teutonic “backe”, to name a few – the one universally held value of the meat is its blend of lean, flavorful belly meat and buttery, luxurious fat. Chefs who embrace bacon tend to seek unexpected ways to incorporate it as an accent to both the savory and the sweet flavors of a variety of types of dishes.
With a legacy as diverse and regionally-influenced as wine, whiskey attracts those who appreciate wood-barrel aging and the task of distinguishing subtle differences of flavor. And while an appreciation and understanding of whiskey has long been heralded as a sign of tasteful sophistication, the prospect of eating food with whiskey – let alone cooking with it – was historically frowned upon. The Scottish – whiskey heroes according to many – were the first to widely practice cooking with whiskey.
As chef imaginations continue to warm to the notion of including whiskey as an ingredient, use of the liquor has become increasingly diverse – whiskey continues to pop up in innovative stir fries, marinades and glazes, fruit sauces and fillings, and even in some updated renditions of French flambé preparations. The clever ability of whiskey as a flavor profile is its sweet as well as savory notes which are often used to bring out both elements in complementing ingredients.
When it comes to bacon and whiskey together, things are really heating up. Trendy brunch menus fall to the popular wayside if not inclusive of a whiskey-cured bacon flight, a bacon-infused whiskey cocktail, or better yet – a smoked whiskey syrup-drenched stack of bacon pancakes and/or waffles. Additionally, bacon burgers are now seeing additions such as whiskey-reduced chutneys and whiskey-infused mustards to accent the pork’s fruitier notes.
When asked his opinion on the current hype around pairing bacon and bourbon specifically, Chef Bruce Kalman responded by saying, “I don’t find it to be hype, it’s a fact; bacon and bourbon go really well together due to their flavor profiles – smokey, sweet, salty always pairs well with barrel-aged bourbon. And when you cook the alcohol out of bourbon, it has a sweet, rich flavor to it, that is incredibly unique.”
So while both bacon and whiskey have stood on their own for quite some time, they have come together to widely shared enthusiasm as die-hard partners in the latest and greatest of savory as well as sweet taste-pairing and inventive, contemporary cooking. Read more in this month’s featured chef spotlight with Bruce Kalman.