Beer and Bacon: BFFs to the end
Anthony Gladman explores the fantastic duo
Saturday 31 July 2021
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Mmm, bacon. Is there any food that inspires quite so much drooling? Food writer Niamh Shields, author of Bacon, The Cookbook, reckons it’s one of the most underestimated and overestimated foods at once. There’s something about those sizzling, salty rashers that satisfies like nothing else. Yet we do so little with it when in fact it’s very versatile.
“It is so much more than a fried slice,” she says. “In Ireland we have bacon chops, ribs, whole bacon joints to roast and boil.”
It’s not just the ways in which it can be served, it’s also what you serve it with. Bacon works with all sorts of flavours. “I started making bacon jam and then candied bacon fudge and it snowballed from there to my Bacon Masterclasses and Sunday Bacon Club. The book was a very natural progression. I was having too much fun and I love how much it surprises people.”
There’s something about those sizzling, salty rashers that satisfies like nothing else
So what about beer and bacon? Niamh had good news for us there: it definitely works. “It brings a savoury salty rumble to beer and they make a great combination.”
With International Bacon Day on the horizon (it’s the 4th of September, save it in your calendars) the idea of sinking a few beers while indulging in some bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers certainly appeals. Or perhaps you’d like some candied bacon and salted caramel popcorn with your brew. “Bacon is a terrific snack to have with beer, isn’t it?” says Niahm.
You can take the combinations one step further by putting some beer into the food as well as into the cook. “I used beer in several recipes in the book, they each bring something completely different and yet combine so well,” says Niamh.
Niamh has been using beer in her recipes for years, typically in different marinades for meats, and says it’s a very flexible ingredient. In this book she shows us how to whip up a bacon beer cheese dip and beer-battered bacon, both of which sound heart-stompingly good.
As with so many things, Niamh says it’s important to insist on top quality ingredients if you really want to enjoy bacon at its best. Better yet, you can try curing your own bacon at home. “It’s so easy, and in the end much cheaper too, even with a premium cut of pork.” That way you can cure not only a whole belly but chops, ribs, anything you want.
So, if you’re already thinking up a great excuse to squeeze in one more late-summer barbecue, here are a few beer and bacon pairings for you to enjoy.
Beer battered bacon
“Everyone who has tasted this has just asked ‘WHY have we not been eating this forever?’,” says Niahm. “I don’t know, but we can now. This is so good! And you could absolutely pair it with the beer cheese dip.”
Your best bet here is to pair this with the same beer you used to make the batter. Niahm likes to use an IPA. I suggest sticking to the more traditional English ones, or perhaps a West Coast if you want to go more modern. You’ll want something with a fairly robust flavour but nothing too crazy.
The beer’s carbonation will cut through the fat from the bacon, while the bitterness from the hops and the sweetness from the malt will combat some of the bacon’s salty depth. You could also try something like Five Points Best, which should give complementary Maillard flavours. Delicious!
Bacon beer cheese dip
“Think nacho cheese but with the depth and savouriness of beer.
It’s really easy and comes together quickly,” says Niamh.
There are lots of pairing choices here, and partly it depends on what you’re going to stick into the dip. You could try (in order of flavour intensity) Vienna lager, American porter or Rauchbier. Again you’ll be looking to the carbonation and bitterness to counteract the rich food.
Vienna lager has toasty flavours but is a bit cleaner and lighter than an IPA so may work well against the richness of the dip. Utopian do a great example. An American Porter has even more roasted notes but is lighter than a stout; look for highly hopped examples in particular. Rauchbier has the smokey notes on top of treacle and toffee — some of them even taste of ham so will definitely be a good match.
Stout and treacle bacon jam
“I had to make something for stout lovers as an Irish food writer,” says Niamh. “Stout and treacle make and excellent pairing and go so well with the bacon in this jam. It is very deeply flavoured and rich. One for winter.”
Again your best bet is to use the same stout this was cooked with — it will be an instant win. The jam is quite intense, so you may even be able to get away with an imperial stout to stand up to the depth of flavour.
Bacon- wrapped jalapeno poppers
“Everyone loves poppers and why shouldn’t they have bacon?
Now they do! Make lots and don’t/do tell your friends. Up to you!”
I think some freshness would work here so try them with a German style Hefeweizen. Saisons are great with spice (see also Saison and Thai food) so that’s also worth a go. German pilsner with its clean finish but snappy bitterness might work well, or something Czech with more oomph that stand up to the richness of the dish.
Brown sugar bacon kebabs
“Think yakitori but instead of chicken, solid bacon with a spiced sweet glaze. Perfect BBQ food and sublime with a beer,” says Niamh.
Again you’ll be looking for Maillard flavours here to find affinities with the food. A brown ale might work well. Vienna lager with its lighter body might stop things from getting too rich. You could try a Schwarzbier if the bacon is deeper in flavour. Or how about an Oud Bruin with its acidity to cut through the fat?
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