For a few years now, we’ve done an annual BLT party on New Year’s Day. Being the way we are, of course, that doesn’t mean just a quick run to the grocery store for supplies. Of the four primary ingredients for the sandwich — bacon, lettuce, tomato and bread — the only thing that we don’t make by hand from scratch is the lettuce. Even we have limitations.
Each year we improve the process. The first year I bought tomatoes, thinking I could get away with it, but even in temperate California, the ‘maters in the dead of winter simply suck. So I began packing oven-dried tomatoes in oil and tomato jam back in September when the bounty is at its peak. Problem solved. The other half tinkered with loaves, finally investing in pullman loaf pans to make neatly square sandwiches. This year we even invested in an electric slicer to make for quicker, more uniform slices of both bacon and bread.
The first year I made three varieties of bacon: A standard American, some pancetta, and Sichuan bacon, perfumed with warming spices. The Sichuan bacon was an instant hit, and each year I made more of it and less of the rest, finally jettisoning the others altogether this year. Eleven pounds of the stuff, to be exact. No one complained.
One detail that needed refining this year was how to cook the bacon faster. It’s one of the things that scales pretty linearly: More bacon equals more time making bacon.
I was already cooking it off in the oven. You can crisp up a sheet pan of bacon in about 15-20 minutes. Our friend Jim tipped me off to a way to get more bacon into the oven faster. Slice everything ahead of time and lay the slices out on sheets of parchment paper. Keep the layers stacked in the refrigerator. Then, when a pan comes out of the oven, you can simply remove the cooked bacon to a paper towel to drain, pour off the rendered fat, discard of the used sheet of parchment, and then the pan is ready for the next sheet. Badda bing, badda boom.
Oh, and that bacon fat? When you’re pouring it off, pour it through a few layers of cheesecloth in a strainer into a metal bowl. I sent several people home with 2-ounce jars of rendered Sichuan bacon fat. No one complained.