Monday, May 18, 2015

Salty Sweet is the New Black
What’s cooking? Bacon-Onion Jam

Today, I bring you a wordsmithing tidbit about snowclones. If you want to skip the hors d’oeuvre and move straight to the entrée, feel free. It’s down there just after the three ***s.

Several years ago, I was having lunch at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. I have a habit in restaurants – good or bad, I’m not sure, but shared by my hubby, so... – of checking out the people at nearby tables. I found my attention particularly drawn to a group of about 8 women. The atmosphere around that table fairly vibrated with cool sophistication, and I couldn’t figure  out why until I noticed that they were all dressed either solidly in black or in a combination of black, white, and gray.

In the lexicon of style, black is the color of strength, mystery, and sophistication. So when writers (or more likely, marketers) talk about something being “the new black,” they’re suggesting the ascendancy of that thing to the new power position. The new lead dog.

I have only recently learned that this use of cliché is called a snowclone – a 21st-century word that Wikipedia defines as “a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants.” Completely clear to me, now – how about you?

What they’re trying to say is that a snowclone is a fill-in-the-blank template like something you’d get from a game of MadLibs. Like “I have a [blank] and I’m not afraid to use it.” Or “Have [blank], will travel.” Or “The [Xs] called: they want their [Y] back.” Interestingly, both the original cliché and the altered version are considered snowclones. The name emerged from the cliché about Eskimos having so many words for snow.

Now, I don’t know the first use of the phrase, “[blank] is the new black.” It probably came from the cover of some fashion magazine. And I probably should have titled today’s post “Salty Sweet Is the New Umami,” to give the fully parallel structure its due. But then I wouldn’t have had an excuse to tell you about that group I saw at a Manhattan restaurant.

* * *

In any case, fads in the food world are nothing new. Remember when sliders might have been kids on a playground? When the only filling you’d find in a taco was ground beef? When the idea of a $5 cupcake was laughable?

The Kitchen Goddess subscribes to a handful of online food world newsletters – not a great idea, by the way, if you have any illusions of getting something done when you sit down at your desk. At least once every few months, one of these publications will announce a new trend in foodism.

Well, folks, apparently salty sweet is the latest craze. It’s not totally new – witness salted caramels, Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt, and these Goat Cheese and Nutella Truffles, which are sprinkled with finishing salt. Then, of course, there’s the whole chocolate-covered bacon thing.

And in that vein, I have discovered a most wonderful spread – a condiment you will want to eat straight out of the jar, if you can even bring yourself to put it into a jar in the first place. Bacon-Onion Jam. Phew. This stuff is so lustful, just saying the words gives me the vapors. Sweet, caramelized onions mixed with crispy bacon. Add a peppery kick and savory notes from beer, coffee, and 2-3 vinegars, then stew it all down to a jammy texture and run the whole thing through your food processor to remove the largest chunks. I read about it first in Sam Sifton’s column in The New York Times, but there are a zillion (okay, quite a few) variations. Today, you get mine.

How to use Bacon-Onion Jam?

■ Add a dollop atop chicken-liver pâté on toast (per Sifton’s recommendation)
■ Spread like a condiment on meat- or chicken-based sandwiches or burgers
■ Combine with cheddar cheese as part of a grilled cheese sandwich
■ Smear some on crackers and add crumbled blue cheese for an hors d’oeuvre
■ Dilute with maple syrup to pour over waffles.

You can thank me later.

Bacon-Onion Jam

Makes 3 cups.

1½ pounds bacon, cut in pieces 2-3 inches long
8 ounces shallots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large Vidalia onion, finely chopped (2½ cups)
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons Aleppo pepper (can substitute chili powder)
½ teaspoon paprika (preferably smoked paprika)
¼ cup maple syrup (the real stuff, please)
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ - ¾ cup strong coffee
½ cup malt beverage (like beer) or bourbon
½ cup vinegar mix (I used 2 ounces balsamic, 1 ounce fig-infused, 1 ounce sherry vinegar)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, or a small stockpot (I used an 8-quart stockpot, which kept the bacon fat from spritzing all over my kitchen), cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pot.

Add the onions to the fat and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, then turn the heat to low and add the garlic, Aleppo pepper, and paprika. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the syrup and brown sugar and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves.

Add the coffee, alcohol, and vinegars. Raise the heat to medium high until the mixture reaches a boil, then cover the pot and let it cook (low boil) 15 minutes. Remove the cover, fold in the bacon, and adjust the heat to let the mixture simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, until most of the water has boiled off and the mixture reaches a jammy consistency. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

At this point, you must decide how much texture you want in your jam. Go with it as is, which will have sizeable chunks of bacon. Or scrape the jam into a food processor and process until it reaches a consistency you like. [The Kitchen Goddess prefers hers to be just slightly chunky, so she pulses it in the food processor for about 1 minute.]

Spoon the jam into jars and refrigerate. Well covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two. (Hah -- a week? If it survives even a few days, I’ll be impressed.)  Allow the jam to come to room temperature before serving.

It's the cocktail hour somewhere and these bites take no time to construct. Round crackers are brie with bacon jam; hexagonal crackers serve the jam with Maytag blue. Both hit the spot.

1 comment:

  1. Made this today and can confirm the high level of yumminess. Thank you!