I’d like to take a moment to publicly acknowledge the awesomeness that is Heather and her wonderful birthday gift of cooking demonstration classes. These have been amazing evenings to relax, enjoy mouth-watering food, and meet new people and the chef-du-jour. The central theme to last night’s class, taught by Paul Harding, was bacon, and contrasting flavours to savoury and salty tastes. I enjoyed the evening so much that I decided I would write one of my Toastmaster speeches on the subject, How to Say It. A speech about the sensory experience of cooking and eating was a perfect fit for this task.
Bacon. It’s the food that inspires the culinary creations of chefs, and the grumbling guts of hungry people.
Last evening I had the good fortune to take a cooking class. It was a gift, from my girlfriend Heather meant to inspire me to cook new meals that we could both savour.
Let me set the scene for you. The class chef was Paul Harding of The Only on King. The place was Jill’s Table test kitchen. Paul is preparing the evening’s ingredient as bacon-scented steam rises from out of the oven. A large mirror overhead lets the audience see the raw ingredients from the eyes of the chef.
Let’s imagine that we’re all in the store together, watching Paul work his magic. Tonight’s meal is 4 courses:
- The soup: Nettle soup with house cured bacon and potato pancake
- The appetizer: Angels and devils on horseback
- The entrée: Maple chili glazed bacon slab with asparagus and grainy mustard
- The dessert: Lemon creme brulée
All of tonight’s courses feature _bacon_ as a central ingredient, except for the dessert. The bacon was not the ordinary salty variety you can buy from the store, but home cured in a salt/sugar mix, and maple smoked using a barbecued wood chips. While the bacon sizzles and steams on the skillet, the nettle greens and rice simmer in soup stock. The soup is served with a little island floating in the centre made of fried potato pancake, with little bits of bacon floating like tiny icebergs. The nettle soup was silky, and had a little tartness to enhance the savoury, salty bacon, against the contrast of earthy, almost spinach-like, nettle soup.
The appetizer has a unique name, angels and devils on horseback. When I heard the name, it conjured up an image of white-on-black, black-on-white contrast. The devil in the dish is a cooked date, stuffed with blue cheese. This again creates a savoury, bitter taste from the cheese, in contrast to the soft-texture of the sweet dates. The angels are fresh Pacific oysters, lightly cooked. I have never eaten oysters, so I can now tell you these oysters were good. They have a mild salty taste, and when cooked, had a texture softer than cooked squid. Both of the horseback companions, the angels and devils, were wrapped in cured bacon, and served over a bed of mixed arugula and cabbage sprout greens.
Who can guess what was in the entrée? The star of the main course was a chunk of pork belly, slow cooked to remove a lot of the belly fat, leaving behind a crispy, and just a bit jiggly, piece of bacon. Over top of the bacon was a glaze of maple syrup and chili glaze. With just a hint of heat, the pork has a texture that starts off crispy and brown-glazed on the outside, and as you eat into the centre, the favour becomes softer, more savoury. The pork sat on a bed of asparagus, and simple mustard sauce. At this point, the entire store is being smoked by the bacon, infusing the wonderful smell into our clothes.
Dessert was equally delicious, though unfortunately bacon was not in the dish. To get the hard crust on the dessert, Paul blow-torched a little sugar on top of the custard. After some cooling, your spoon breaks through the hard crust, and the scoops up a bright lemon flavoured custard. It was the perfect way to end an adventure in bacon.
After all that food, it certainly sounds rich. Almost too rich. There was bacon in every dish, and cream was the next common ingredient. The flavour of the entire meal was deep, contrasting savoury with sweet or acidity. I left the meal feeling light, not stuffed, having enjoyed a range of concentrated flavours from bacon. I think I’ll be starting breakfast tomorrow with some bacon, and taking my cooking to a new level.
I hope now you go away and cook up some bacon. Go. Now. Do it!