Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cooking with Bacon

A 'bacon explosion' seems to be the best way to put it.

Bacon recipes are sweeping the web, and not to mention the slew of bacon inspired products:  bacon ice cream, bacon candy, bacon hot sauce, bacon salt, bacon gum.  I almost spit my water out all over my monitor when I read about the bacon fragrance spray.  Really?  Commonly, fast-food chains boast their double bacon burgers, and restaurants are stuffing, topping, and wrapping chicken, steaks, and seafood in bacon.  OH- and (not-so-commonly) those professional chocolate making people (chocolatiers is the correct term, I believe) are sprinkling bacon bits in chocolate bars like they are toffee or nuts. This is designed to encourage the sweet and savory combo of flavors that seems to work so well.  If your response to the sweet and savory comment is 'EW,’ did you ever dredge your bacon or sausage in your waffle syrup remains?  Not so 'ew', now is it?

Bacon has been justified as a good source of omega- 3's (yea- not so much), B vitamins and a multitude of minerals, yet, the American Heart Association still recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 7% of your total calories.


There is no arguing that bacon is a tasty treat, but how do you compensate for all that fat, sodium, and cholesterol? Is there any way for bacon to be part of a healthy diet?  In a revelation myself about bacon, may I suggest using the meat as a flavor agent rather than a main ingredient in your recipes. Yes, bacon is fatty, but utilizing this practice can cut fat, cholesterol, and sodium all while sensibly enjoying a small amount of bacon.

How exactly do I use bacon to my advantage? My top three tips for cooking with pork belly are:

1.) Not all bacon is created equal.
Center-cut bacon is a great choice if you enjoy its crisp smokiness. Because it’s cut from closer to the bone, center-cut bacon has about 20 percent less saturated fat than regular bacon with the same satisfying flavor.  Also choose the flavor smoked versions, like applewood or cob-smoked for more flavor than the typical wood smoked varieties.  Less is more, my friends.

2.) Use bacon in bits.
Try topping your dishes with a small amount of crumbled bacon (half a strip, or even less, per serving). Savory, smoky flavor bursts from just a small amount while adding just a gram or so of saturated fat to the entire dish.

3.) Save the drippings. 
If cooking a small amount of bacon to season a recipe, leave a teaspoon or two of the drippings behind in the pan to sauté the onions and garlic, and shrimp, or chicken, letting the bacony flavor profile boom through the whole dish without the booming addition of unhealthy fats.

I've taken all three of my tips and used them in this belly pleasing recipe (not pork belly.. Amber's belly!)  I was halfway jaw-dropped when I took my first bite.  How good could this actually be?  The caramelized onions and bacon-crisped gulf shrimp pair gloriously with a hint of the applewood smoked bacon.

Go now.  Use my tips.  Eat well, while eating bacon.  I give you permission :)

Southern Shrimp & Grits with Cheese and Green Chilies

3 cups non-fat (skim) milk
1 cup organic fat-free chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 cup uncooked stone ground grits
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
1 (4 ounce) block reduced fat cream cheese
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies

4 slices applewood-smoked bacon
1 pound peeled, deveined Gulf shrimp
1 cup thinly vertically sliced white onion
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or chopped chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
1/8 teaspoon ground or crushed red pepper

For grits: Combine milk, water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer; gradually add grits, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat to medium; cook 4 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in cheeses and chilies.

For shrimp: While grits cook, cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 2 teaspoons drippings; crumble or roughly chop bacon (I prefer the latter- I don't like the greasy feeling on my fingers after crumbling.. prissy girl alert.)  Add shrimp to drippings in pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until done. Remove shrimp from pan. Add white onion to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in bacon, tomatoes, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper; sauté 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp, pepper sauce, and red pepper; cook 1 minute or until shrimp are heated. Serve over grits

Nutrition Information: Serves 4 (1 cup grits and 1 1/2 cups shrimp mixture each)
Calories: 491; Fat: 15.3 g; Carbohydrate: 45.9 g; Fiber: 3.4 g; Protein: 41.4

Amber Massey RD, LD
Registered Dietitian
Executive Health Program
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth

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