Bacon is extremely popular here in Ireland and our latest Back to Basics guide will help you understand why.
In our Back to Basics series, we look at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef and chicken thighs; today we're looking at bacon.
One of the most popular breakfast foods in the country, Irish bacon rashers are some of the best in the world as our pork is of such a high quality. Joints of bacon are still massively popular in Ireland and commonly used as roasting joints.
Types of bacon and bacon products
Broadly speaking, bacon is a type of salt-cured of pork that can be prepared from several different cuts of pork, such as the belly and the back. While there are a few different types of bacon, the term refers to several different things depending on where in the world you are.
In Ireland, bacon usually refers to a joint of bacon, like loin or collar, that is cooked in one large piece. These joints of bacon are usually called collar of bacon, which comes from near the head of the pig, or cottage bacon, which is made from boneless pork shoulder that is then rolled and tied. Bacon, gammon and ham are all often used interchangeably to refer to a joint of bacon, but these three terms actually refer to different things: gammon comes exclusively from the hind leg of the pig, while ham can be made of the hind leg and other parts of the animal.
In America, bacon generally refers to what we would call streaky bacon, which is thin fatty slices taken from the belly or the side of the pig. The belly has long layers of fat throughout it, which offer both moisture and flavour to the pork meat. Pancetta is an Italian version of streaky bacon which is cured and rolled into a cylinder.
Here in Ireland, back bacon rashers are more popular than the streaky variety. This type of bacon comes from the back or loin of the pig with a tiny bit of the belly still attached, so it is much leaner than streaky bacon.
All bacon is cured before it is sold, either in a wet cure or a dry cure. Dry-cured bacon is the better of the two as it results in a product with better flavour and less shrinkage. Dry-curing involves rubbing the bacon with salt and sugar, then leaving it to cure slowly for a period of time. This method also results in a crisper finished product, but as it is more labour intensive than wet-curing, it is more expensive.
Wet-cured bacon is a quicker, cheaper way to cure meat, but it doesn't enhance the product in the same way that dry-curing does. Wet-curing involves immersing or injecting the bacon with a brine to help it cure quickly. The final product can contain up to 10 percent of brine, which can be seen as a white liquid that comes from bacon during cooking, resulting in shrinkage and a less crisp product. After curing, bacon can be sold as is or it can be smoked to add an extra level of flavour. Smoked bacon is particularly popular in America.
Looking for some recipe inspiration?
- This bacon and leek macaroni cheese from The Lovely Food Co. is the ultimate comfort food.
- Kevin Dundon's pan-fried cod with bacon and mussels is an absolutely delicious dish that celebrates the best of Irish produce.
- Bacon and cabbage stuffed quail from Gary O'Hanlon offers a unique take on an Irish classic.