"Bacon Nation" (Workman Publishing, $14.95) with Peter Kaminsky, was happy to oblige. She started with the pig as a whole. "All parts of the pig are joyous — and edible," she said, before launching into a series of dishes from appetizer to dessert that used bacon as a key ingredient. For her first recipe, she turned bacon into a jam loaded with ginger and bourbon. It would make a great starter or snack with cheese and crackers. Or you could spread it on a hamburger or pork. Or you could just dip a spoon in the jar and enjoy it's sweet, salty, fruity and hot flavors. The type of bacon that you use in recipes like this one matters, Rama said. For a jam, you'd want a bacon that's been smoked with applewood or cherrywood to give it a fruit flavor. For her Bacon Crumble-Topped Bran Muffins, a thick-cut bacon is preferred for both the muffin base and the topping. But a thin-cut or regular-cut slice would work better for the Bacon Swizzle Stick that's perfect for your next Bloody Mary. It also helps to know what you're buying, she said. Some bacons have water added to pump up the volume and add weight. You might not learn that by reading the label, but you'll know the first time you try to cook it, she said. So, if it happens to you, remember the label and don't be fooled again. Rama likes to examine the bacon for a good proportion of fat to meat. She prefers hers to be about 50/50, but she added quickly that "I don't have a horse in this race." She used artisan bacon and commercial bacon alike in creating and testing the recipes for "Bacon Nation." But she did say that was impressed with the bacon selection she found at Central Market. "Whenever I go into a new city, I always go to the meat market and check out the bacon," she said. "You've got great stuff here." Throughout her class, Rama stressed the importance of reserving the bacon grease for using again. Your recipe may call for a tablespoon or two; or you could use those drippings to great effect in any of the following ideas from "Bacon Nation:"
- Pop popcorn in bacon fat.
- Make a Caesar salad dressing using bacon drippings instead of olive oil.
- Fry chicken using four parts peanut oil and one part bacon fat.
- Use bacon fat to cook refried beans and sunny-side-up eggs.
- Add bacon fat when boiling water to cook or blanch green beans.