Bourbon and Cider Braised Bacon

10 Sep

This past weekend I competed in a bacon cook-off fundraiser, entitled Baconpalooza, which was hosted by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. The contest was part of an entire weekend of events, which included a tour of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm and nutrition talks and cooking demos by Robb Wolf and Jenny McGruther. My competition was very stiff during the cook-off, with many imaginative and delicious entries trying to woo the sold-out crowd of 250 voters.

I’m happy to say that I was the winner of the cook-off! I thought it would be neat to share the recipe of my winning dish so you can recreate it at home.

recipe adapted from Ian Knauer

one piece uncut bacon (jowl bacon or belly bacon)
~ 3 cups apple cider
~ 1/4 cup bourbon (we used Maker’s Mark)
~ 20 peppercorns
~2 bay leaves

The ingredients in this dish are variable, and depend on the size of bacon piece you get. I would recommend something that’s at least a pound, and fairly thick. The bacon we used in the competition was graciously provided by US Wellness Meats and Red Apron Butchery, but any local butcher should be able to provide you with a nice chunk of uncut bacon.

Place the bacon in a dutch oven or roasting pan, then pour in enough apple cider to almost cover the bacon, then add a few splashes of bourbon. I used a ratio of around 1/10 bourbon, 9/10 apple cider – it’s not an exact science. Sprinkle in some peppercorns and add a couple bay leaves. Again, the amount varies.

Cover tightly (use a couple layers of tinfoil if you don’t have a heavy lid for your dish) then roast in the oven at 350 degrees for four hours. Take out the dish, uncover, and let cool in the liquid until it reaches room temperature, about an hour. Once it’s cool, put it in a ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight so that it’ll firm up. The bacon will keep for a month in the fridge.

When you want to eat it, slice it into thick slices, or into cubes like you see above, then sear for about a minute on each side on high heat. That’s basically it – the bacon will melt in your mouth at that point.

The bacon has such an intense flavor that I realized we needed to add accompaniments to complement and accent the strong flavor. For the cook-off we paired the bacon with a parsnip purée, beet chips, and some baby arugula tossed with Tessemae’s Lemonette dressing and fresh lemon juice. To make the parsnip purée, we just boiled some peeled and chopped parsnips until they were fork tender, about 40 minutes. Then we strained them and ran them through a food processor until smooth, and mashed in some grass-fed butter and salt to taste. We fried our beet chips in lard at 350 degrees, then lightly salted them while they drained on some paper towels.

The Team: my wife Janey, me, and our friend Giang

Overall, it was a really fun night, and I had a great time serving people and seeing their reactions when they tried the bacon. I also enjoyed the friendly ribbing between competitors; at the end of the day, it was great to see all the home chefs come out and show off their talents. Be sure to check out the list of other dishes that were presented – everything was really delicious!

** Note that this recipe calls for uncut bacon, and not pork belly. Your best bet for getting uncut bacon would be to go directly to a butcher. If you make this dish with pork belly, it’ll lack the flavor that comes from braising the cured/smoked bacon; adding about 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp liquid smoke will help it along, though.

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Thanks to Molly M. Peterson for taking some of the pictures in this post!

39 Responses to “Bourbon and Cider Braised Bacon”

  1. Ted lambert September 10, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Start with bacon is it cured/cooked already or is it fresh pork belly

    • Russ Crandall September 10, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      Ted, you want to use bacon, not fresh belly/jowl.

      • Jake September 10, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

        Is there a reason you couldn’t/wouldn’t use fresh belly?

        • Russ Crandall September 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

          Jake, using fresh belly wouldn’t impart the smokiness that’s a big part of this dish’s taste. It also wouldn’t keep as long after cooking, since it’s unpreserved. It’d still taste pretty good. Maybe add some liquid smoke into the braising liquid.

        • Joe April 13, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

          did you try it with fresh belly? how did it turn out?

  2. meg September 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    Oh my gosh, I need to make this ASAP! Bacon and bourbon are two of my favorite things, and I love the addition of apple cider!

  3. That other cook... September 10, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    congrats on winning that cook off :) it does look like a winner! do you reserve the cooking liquid?

    • Russ Crandall September 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      Thanks Paul! I didn’t reserve the cooking liquid but that’s a good idea – although I’d expect it to be sickly sweet near the end of the braise.

      • That other cook... September 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

        you could use it to make a gastrique and flavor a dipping sauce with it :) I think your cider reduction has to be delicious, great post btw

        • Russ Crandall September 10, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

          You’re right, that actually might work out pretty well :)

  4. acrusteaten September 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Congratulations! What an accolade! King of bacon!

    • Russ Crandall September 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      Thanks Pami! They were throwing around the title “Baron of Bacon” for a while but I think Russ is just fine :)

      • acrusteaten September 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

        I don’t know…Baron of Bacon has a nice ring to it.

  5. Cindy Francies September 10, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    is there skin on that? Looks great

    • Russ Crandall September 10, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

      Hi Cindy, that’s the top of the fat, not skin :)

  6. rey & lyn September 13, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Arugula sounds like a great compliment to the bacon. I once had the pleasure of eating watermelon wrapped with bacon and it tasted surprisingly well. Just goes to show how versatile bacon really is! I love bacon! Thank you for sharing your recipe!

  7. Nate October 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Anything that combines bacon, bourbon, and cider deserves to win every award! Congratulations, and thank you so much for sharing!

  8. Jasmine @ The Balanced Flower October 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Brilliant Bacon! Congrats, and thanks for sharing. Looking forward to trying this out implementing the cubed idea.

    • kay October 25, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

      My mothers signature dish while growing up was smoked ham baked in a roaster with apple cider clove and cinnamon, the gravy she made from this was salty from the ham and sweet from the cider .. the harmony of sweet and savory it was AMBROSIA! She served it with mashed potatoes and to this day it remains my favorite dish. So i think the reduction idea or a even a gravy would be exquisite!!

  9. pauledmondson November 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    This looks awesome. Definitely want to try this!

  10. barkeeperin January 4, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    Reblogged this on Boteveg's Pub and commented:
    Buffalo Trace Bourbon posted this link on Facebook. I am blogging it to share it and to make sure I will have access to it when I am ready to try making it. Also, since my blog is new, I have no idea how this Reblog menu choice at the top of the page works and I had to find out somehow. What better way than with bourbon and bacon?

  11. Jesse G. March 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    I made this recipe once with uncured pork belly and it was delicious. Now I’m finally trying it with bacon and I’m going to chop the resulting meat into small chunks to put it into a braised bacon and brussels sprout hash with crispy shallots and a poached egg. Thanks for the recipe and the inspiration!

    • Joe April 13, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

      did you need to add salt when using an uncured belly?

      • Jesse G. April 13, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

        I definitely needed salt. I wasn’t sure how much I need, so I ended up adding a couple of shakes of kosher salt to the braising liquid and then some extra salt on the back end when cooking up the resulting sliced bacon.


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