This is silly but it might be my best cooking discovery during lockdown. I just found a new way to cook bacon. A way that is so good, so controlled. And there is absolutely no mess afterwards! No kidding. This is so simple I can’t believe it took me this long to figure it out. And if you already knew, don’t go sending me a message to make me feel any more stupid than I already do!
The secret? Use a big pot!
Offhand, I can’t think what the name of this type of pot is? Is it a stockpot? Anyway it’s the bloody big one that you’d pull out to cook a massive chili when you’ve got the whole family coming over.
Don’t get the bacon that is layered so the pack is flat. Get the big one, with thick-sliced bacon, not splayed out, so that it’s like a brick of meat in the vacuum pack. Heat up the pot up to a medium heat & toss the brick in, fat side down. You’ll want to give a little crispness to the outer edge of fat on each slice. Don’t overdo it or you’ll make the pot bottom sticky. After that, there will already be some rendered fat coating the bottom of the pot. Turn down the heat. Now you can start peeling off the slices & distributing them around the bottom of the pot. You don’t have to be careful here, any old way will do, doesn’t matter that they’re on top of each other. Come back periodically & give the whole mess a little stir to swap out the slices on the bottom. The slower pace of cooking will allow the fat to render clean & you’ll wind up almost deep frying the bacon at slow speed. Only one or two bits tried to stick to the pot & a quick scrape of the spatula took care of it. Remove the bacon slices when they get to where you like them. I prefer bacon a little rubbery myself, but many prefer it crispy. Your choice.
The lower temperature required for the slower pace of cooking gives you a lot of nice clear fat. Drain this off into a glass container & stick it in the fridge. That’s for cooking home fried potatoes later! Okay get the pasture raised bacon if you want to be really healthy.
This last step is really important to ensure the easiest, non-drain-clogging clean-up. Sautée some onion & garlic in the residual fat at the bottom of the pot. Then deglase with a little stock. From here you can make whatever you like (I made a potato bacon curry, with cilantro for a green vegetable! 😜) but now, all the fat is gone somewhere useful, & the pot is far, far easier to clean.
The big kicker is this … no fat splatter on the stove top & backsplash! None, not one spot. Thanks to the high sides on that big pot.
Dieting is tough. If I don’t have the right food on hand, I’m going to eat the wrong food, right!?! Bulk cooking is a way to ensure that we always have a meal in a container. And if we’re lucky, it’s a meal that meets the dietary requirements for our current regimen. When it comes to bulk cooking, I want to make the maximum amount of food, with the minimum of fuss. And as little mess as possible. That usually means that I pull out my big 50 gallon pot. Or one of my one-pot wonders … the ActiFry, my Instant Pot, or my most recent acquisition, the slow cooker.
The benefit is that we can toss a bunch of stuff into any one of these things & hit go. Depending on which one gets fired up, we’re eating half an hour later. Or maybe we get to enjoy the cooking smells for 6 or 8 hours before we dig in. It’s our choice.
If speed is important, you just can’t beat the Instant Pot. It is fast, clean & efficient. The only drawback, & the failing in mine not the Pot’s, is browning. I don’t want to dirty another pan, so I brown my meat in the Instant Pot. I never deglaze properly &, as often than not, I get that burn warning when I close the lid. Forcing me to open it up, scrape the bottom of the Pot, & restart. For that very same reason, thickeners are better added at the end. That aside, this thing will turn old boots into melt-in-your-mouth food in double quick time. Depending on which model you go for, it does all sorts of other tricks. One of my favorites is the yogurt button. I like high fat yogurt & this thing does an amazing job with a no-boil yogurt. Though the cost for my preferred ingredients means that store-bought is probably still cheaper on sale. Since the pot liner is removable, cleanup is a breeze. This is a great little cooker.
Having ignored slow-cookers most of my life, I recently succumbed to peer pressure! With all day cooking times, having to think this far ahead was a little alien for me. But I found it surprisingly easy to get into the rhythm. Turns out that, as a morning person, it suits me. Toss a bunch of the appropriate foods into the crock, hit go, & come back later. Much later. I’m tired by the end of the day &, rather than cook, I tend to make poor choices with whatever is more readily available. If this baby is doing its thing all day, the cooking smells have me drooling by dinner time. And then it delivers! There were a couple of surprises here. The evaporative losses are minimal. So you wind up with almost the same amount of liquid at the end, as you started out with. This requires a little post processing if you want to thicken the sauce. The other surprise is that meat is tenderized to the point of falling apart. Yet the potatoes remain whole. How does that happen!?! Like the Instant Pot, browning may improve results. But you’ve got to do it on another pan. And that’s really the only downside. You don’t have to brown, but it does make the dish taste better. And look better.
The T-fal ActiFry is a well-used machine in our house! Diet or not, I like fried food. The first thing I did when I got this little beauty was toss out the little green spoon! You know the one? The instruction book tells you to limit yourself to two little spoonfuls of “heart-healthy” fat to make your French fries. Forget that! Hide that spoon & you will feel no guilt! I’ve tried everything in this. With & without the paddle. With & without the optional rotating basket. If you put enough fat in there, they all taste great. I generally use coconut oil or olive oil. But I’ve done bacon in the thing. And then used the bacon fat to cook French fries! Or mushrooms. Mmmmmmm! If you can stop fish sticking to the basket, that’s a great meal too. Other than the power cord getting a little hot during cooking, this little beast is great. I really like the flavor of the food coming from it.
My big pot! The good old fashioned saucepan. It’s a big thing with a small handle on either side, like little ears. You can beat this thing with a hammer, stir & scrape it with a metal spatula, or toss it outside the back door when the sink is full. The only downside is that you do need to sit it on the stove. For speed, it falls between the Instant Pot & the Slow Cooker. And, whether you need to or not, you’re going to come by to stir the contents every now & again. You can brown in it, but it too requires deglazing. Though it’s not as fussy as a lidded device. Its one big advantage is that liquids evaporate & the sauce thickens. Because you’re stopping by every now & again, it gets stirred & tasted. For a cook-by-feel person, that’s a plus. The other big plus of a plain old pot is its ability to release the flavors from spices. For me, that is mostly done by cooking the spices in hot oil for a few minutes, ahead of dumping in the major ingredients. By the time the cooking is done, this makes for a better blending of flavor than when you just add spices to the liquid in the pot.
So which one is best?
With the lidded-pots, you have to work a little harder to match the flavor of the regular old pot. But for convenience, you can’t beat these set-it-and-forget-it style pots. Fast or slow? Really depends on the day. The ActiFry is a totally different beast to the others. And it can be used by the low-fat & high-fat folk. Each one wins in a different way. But if you were to strand me on a desert island with just one, I’d probably have to stick with the trusty old pot.
Thankfully, I don’t have to choose. And they all have their place & space in my kitchen.