It’s hard for me to admit this, but: I may have been wrong about bacon.
For the longest time, I was convinced I just didn’t like bacon. It started when I was a kid, after eating a strip or two at a hotel breakfast buffet and coming down with a tummyache later that day. It was too heavy and greasy for me, and the smoky fat coated my mouth for hours afterward. Over the years, my dislike morphed into an identity-defining quirk. I wasn’t just anybody; I was a convention-flouter, a foodie rebel, a weirdo. The Girl Who Didn’t Like Bacon. (My college roommate had a very hard time wrapping her head around this. Bacon is her favorite food. It was awkward for a while.)
But over the past few years, my solidly constructed Dislike of Bacon has cracked and chipped. The first breach came at a tasting event at Il Cane Rosso, where they passed around housemade pretzel bites anointed with mustard and just a hint of bacon fat. They were perfect bites, chewy and salty and just the tiniest bit smoky, and I still think impure thoughts about them sometimes. From then on, bacon started showing up in more and more appealing guises: wrapped around chestnuts at a fancy holiday party, crumbled into a brussels sprouts salad at one of Sam’s family gatherings, nestled between slices of bread at a charcuterie shop in Wellington, NZ.
I don’t think I’ll ever really love chomping down on a crispy slice of bacon. But when it comes to bacon as a flavor and texture enhancer, as part of a more complex and flavorful dish–dare I say it–I’m on board. And a couple weeks ago, I took the last step towards fully embracing bacon, by doing something I’d never done before: buying a big slab of it and cooking it up myself.
For my first-ever bacon-cooking attempt, I chose a classic: quiche Lorraine. It started out of necessity–I had milk, cream, and eggs that needed using up, and a pastry crust in the freezer. So it only seemed right to add bacon, leeks, and Gruyere cheese, and then to serve it to my friends with a vinegary green salad for a late Sunday brunch. As a reformed bacon-hater, I was shocked at how utterly delicious bacon, leeks, and cheese are together: smoky balancing sweet, salt balancing fat, hammy and crisp balancing tender and silky. This is the kind of indulgent brunch dish that’s perfect for impressing people. It’s French, it takes a while to make, and it demands high-quality meat, cheese, and eggs to really make it sing. But when it’s done right–and yes, that includes bacon–it’s spectacular.