From the perfect steak to the best-ever hot cross buns, in this new series Daniel Tapper consults experts to reveal how to master six classic comfort food dishes. This time: the bacon sandwich
Are you on first name terms with your local butcher? And are they passionate about the provenance of their meat? If the answer is yes to both of these, then you are already well on your way to creating the ultimate bacon sandwich, according to Tim Wilson, founder of The Ginger Pig.
“Your local butcher is highly likely to know exactly where their meat comes from and will also be able to share some information about the curing process, which is really useful if you’re looking for a specific type of bacon,” he says. “My preference is for thick sliced, unsmoked back bacon. Always go for dry cured, because although a wet cure may seem cheaper, you get a lot less meat for your money, as it’s full of water.”
Crucially, the bacon should be sourced from pigs that come from reputable farms. This last point is key, says Wilson, because livestock that is looked after well in the field, simply tastes far better on the plate. At The Ginger Pig, for example, the porkers are kept outside all year round, but have arks to provide warmth, shelter and shade. They have constant access to food to avoid any stress or fighting and are fed a natural diet of homegrown cereal.
I require no more convincing, and promptly buy a parcel of unsmoked back bacon. However, I also procure a few rashers of bacon that is both smoked and streaky, which I hope will lend the sandwich added depth of flavour. The decision, I might add, paid off handsomely.
There is perhaps nobody in London who knows more about cooked breakfasts than Maria Moruzzi. As the founder and chief of Maria’s Market Café, her bacon, eggs and famous bubble and squeak have been attracting everyone from Market-workers to celebrity chefs for decades. And I kid you not, there is genuinely no better breakfast to be had anywhere in the capital—perhaps England. So, it was to Maria I turned when I began to investigate how the bacon should be cooked.
“I only ever fry the bacon on a griddle,” she says. “It’s quick and easy and I can get a lot of bacon on there at the same time, which is really important given how many sandwiches we serve each day. It also adds flavour, because I use the same griddle to cook pretty much everything. Obviously, not everyone can come and use my griddle, so I suggest a frying pan instead—never the grill.”
When it comes to the question of how long the bacon should be cooked, Maria is surprisingly laid-back. Some like it crispy and others prefer it a little meatier, she tells me, and at the end of the day that is down to personal preference.
Sadly, I’m not sure I’m as open-minded. After several trials, I am convinced that all bacon should be cooked until at least a little golden and crispy (not that I had the courage to tell Maria this). There are two reasons why: firstly, when heat is applied to meat it activates something known as the Maillard reaction, a chemical process that imbues well-cooked bacon with gentle flavours of molasses, caramel and maple syrup. Secondly, it gives the bacon its all-important crunchy texture—a welcome contrast to the spongy bread.
A bap has one major virtue—it is a lot sturdier than normal sliced bread, making it a great choice if you’re adding things like fried eggs or bubble and squeak. But both Tim and Maria are adamant that the purist’s choice will always be a sliced white bloomer with a crispy crust. And I would have to agree. I should also add that although we have a history of heart disease in our family, the bread should first be used to mop up the leftover fat from the pan. You won’t regret it.
Interestingly, I’m the only one who seems to think that the addition of ketchup is acceptable; Tim likes his plain and Maria is a die-hard brown sauce fanatic, who wouldn’t be seen dead without a hefty glug in her sarnie.
But I stand by my choice; ketchup boasts the perfect level of acidity—just enough to cut through the clag of the fat. More still, it is derived from actual vegetables that may or may not offset at least some of the irreparable damage being done to my arteries. I tell Maria about by theory, who sternly replies: “Oh for crying out loud, everything is good for you in moderation. I just say enjoy it while you can because nobody lives forever.” And she’s right, of course.
Thankfully, we all agree that a bacon sandwich should not and cannot be served without a decent cuppa, preferably of the loose-leaf variety. “Anything else would just be silly,” says Maria.
Heat a pan over a medium heat for around 3 mins. Pan-fry 2 rashers of dry-cured smoked streaky bacon and 2 rashers of dry-cured unsmoked back bacon for around 7 mins, or until golden. Remove the back bacon and continue to cook the streaky bacon for 1 min, or until slightly crunchy, before setting aside.
Use both slices of bread to mop up the bacon juices from the pan and assemble the sandwich with a generous dollop of ketchup.