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.
Quiche Lorraine (serves 6-8)
Note: You can use pretty much any dairy you want here. I used up the dregs of a pint of cream, then added milk until I had the right amount. You could easily use all milk, or all cream, or all half-and-half, or some combination–just go by what’s in your fridge.
1 Rye Pie Crust (or your favorite single-crust pie dough), refrigerated for at least 1 hour
6 oz bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, washed and sliced
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk, half-and-half, cream, or a combination
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
Special equipment: 9- or 10-inch round pan (cake pan, pie pan, or tart pan)
Remove the crust from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. If the crust is still too firm to roll, whack it with your rolling pin until it loosens up. Roll the crust into a round about 12 inches across, and transfer it to the pan. Gently press the dough into the pan, then trim the excess and use it to patch any cracks or uneven spots. Place the crust in the freezer for 10 minutes, to help it firm up and keep it from shrinking while it bakes.
Preheat the oven to 425º F, and position a rack in the middle. Line the inside of the pie crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil, making sure the paper is large enough to leave an overhang you can grab hold of later on. Fill the pan with pie weights, raw rice, dried beans, or pennies. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the crust is set and just starting to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and use the overhanging parchment paper to lift the weights out of the crust (they’ll be hot, so be careful). Turn the oven down to 350º F, and let the crust cool completely in the pan while you make the filling.
Place bacon in a large skillet, and turn the heat to medium. Slowly cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until it starts to crisp around the edges. Carefully pour off or swab out all but about 1 tbsp of the bacon fat. Return the pan to the heat, and add leeks, a pinch of salt, and a splash of water. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes, or until the water has evaporated, the leeks are very soft, and the bacon is crisp. Remove from the heat.
In a medium mixing bowl or glass measuring cup, combine eggs, milk or cream, salt, and pepper, and whisk until smooth.
Distribute the cheese and the bacon-leek mixture evenly in the pre-baked crust. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Pull out the middle oven rack, and place the baking sheet on the rack. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the crust (if using a 9-inch pan, you may have a bit of egg mixture left over). Gently push the rack back into the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the filling is set but still wobbly in the center. The filling should jiggle like Jell-o, but not ripple like liquid.
Remove the quiche from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving. If desired, you can let the quiche cool completely–about 2 hours–then wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.
This post is my April contribution to Our Growing Edge, a monthly link-up party founded by Genie of Bunny Eats Design. This month’s link round-up is hosted by Dana at I’ve Got Cake. Our Growing Edge is all about trying new things in the world of food, and connecting food bloggers to inspire them to do the same. Genie invited me to contribute a little while ago, and I’m delighted to (finally) join the party!