Thursday, 12 March 2009

Bringing Bacon to Work

Dishes where meats and fruits comingle abound such as Hawaiian-style pizza, sweet and sour pork and lemon chicken. Personally, though, I'd never been a big fan of sweet (and sour) mixed with savoury until I was exposed to a couple of Italian examples, the most classic one being Proscuitto con melone, where slices of specially cured ham are wrapped around melon balls. One particularly impressive variation to the Italian theme on which I got to indulge was when I was in Ottawa last November. Between the actual ceremony and dinner at a childhood friend's wedding there was some finger food served, one of which I absolutely loved. It consisted of slices of pancetta fried to a crisp, topped with a slice of pear held in place vertically by a dab of goat cheese. I absolutely couldn't get enough of it, I'll confess!

Roll the timeline to this week. Yesterday my office had another potluck lunch, and when we first agreed to have one, my first concrete thought of a dish to make was the pancetta-pear delight. Of course, I realized using pancetta wasn't worth it in this case for a few reasons:
  1. This wasn't a cocktail party, it was just a nice social gathering amongst colleagues; there was no need for me to go overboard;
  2. Pancetta is more of a luxury (i.e. $$$), I wasn't certain I could get some in Brandon and I wasn't planning to do a shopping run in Winnipeg anytime soon; and
  3. Most of my colleagues are not foodies per se and, as one of them pointed out to me, may not fully appreciate the more luxuriant dishes.
After thinking for a while, I realized that there was an inexpensive, common substitute that would definitely be more appreciated by my colleagues than pancetta: bacon.

Food purists can give a hue and cry all they want, but let's face it, pancetta, when broken down to its basic components, is fancy pork belly. Bacon, perchance, is also pork belly. Pork is a popular meat in marrying with fruit, so I figured, why not attempt to use bacon for my own concoction?

Still on the subject of substitution, I decided to substitute goat cheese with cream cheese. Again, price and general appreciativeness by my colleagues were key factors, though this time I decided to get some flavoured cream cheese, in this case herb and garlic, to give some added dimension. I'm not ashamed to have made such substitutions, and the fact that everyone, yes, everyone, in my office who was there enjoyed my dish should stand as testament to at least my cooking competence. Food is made to be enjoyed, and if others enjoy it, then I will have been successful.

And here are pictures of the end product! As you can see, I solved the problem of bacon being much longer then pear slices by cutting the bacon (I used the reduced salt version in this case) in half before frying the slices to a crisp over medium heat in my trusty cast iron pan and letting them cool on paper towels that also absorbed the extra grease. Unfortunately some of the slices broke laterally in two due to already weak connections in a layer of fat in this batch of bacon, so I salvaged the bacon by using the larger, intact pieces as the base with the split pieces placed on top of the pear slices. All the bacon and pear slices (about 2-3mm thick) are held in place with dabs of the cream cheese.

I started frying the bacon at ~5:30am so that I could complete this dish in time for breakfast and work, so that meant it wouldn't be eaten for at least 6.5 hours. Frying the bacon to a true crisp (without burning them) is therefore key to the success of this dish. Even after that many hours stored in a cool place to keep the cream cheese safe the bacon will still retain quite a bit of crispiness, though you wouldn't be able to hear someone chomping on these bacon-pear bites from across the room compared to when they were made fresh. Still, neither the saltiness of the bacon nor the sweetness of the pear were overpowering, and the cream cheese added just a subtle zing to it all.

I didn't bring home any leftovers, so I say it was well worth waking up earlier than usual to make this dish for my colleague to enjoy.