The pandemic is making me nostalgic for the most prosaic and un-extraordinary occasion:breakfast out. I used to like to sit at the counter in a diner and watch everyone in action. The line cooks moved economically, reaching for bowls and frying pans, flipping eggs, checking bacon, swiping rafts of toast with lashings of butter, flipping pancakes, all while dodging legions of wait staff and kitchen help with remarkable delicacy and concentration. I could never do that work – I am too testy and territorial. I do not play well with others.
Back in the good old days, before masks and social distancing, we frequented a couple of lunch counters where the people watching was always so delicious; a real bonus because the meals always seemed wonderful, too. I loved surveying the servers, who seemed to have been on the job for years, pouring out multiple steaming cups of coffee, while also scribbling orders with nubbins of pencils, wiping down nearby tables, straightening menus and collecting glasses. We could see young families, all outfitted for soccer, perched around tiny, tippy tables, pushing crayons and maple-syrup-soaked French toast, waving slices of bacon. The tables were always sticky, and wobbly, but someone else cooked the bacon.
There is a bagel place near us that I have visited a couple of times during the last year. (Mostly the folks who frequent it don’t wear masks, otherwise I would stop by more often.) As I wait for my sad little salt bagel I peer over the display case to ogle the vast Viking griddle, crusty with years of vintage bacon, sausage and egg grease. On a corner of the range there is usually a vast stainless steel container, at least a foot wide and almost as deep, that seems to hold the world’s reserve of cooked bacon. Who completes that thankless task day after day? Do they love the repetition of the prep work, or is it a job that has sucked all the bacon joy out of that person’s life? Are they feeling minimalistic and sangfroid about their job, or nihilistic and bitter beyond belief? Imagine being a bacon sous chef. Of course, some foodie TV show could probably elevate that position to near godly status, particularly if some specially designed cooking tools and a mystical backstory were associated with bacon cooking. David Chang might already be beating a path to the bacon chef’s table. Or maybe I have been watching too many cooking shows during COVID.
During these perilous times we have been doing a lot of cooking, as I am sure you have been, too. We either cook or perish. My friends on the Slate Culture Gabfest divulged an easy recipe for tiramisu this week. And these are the folks who are supposed to tell us what books to read, and what TV to binge next. (Links to this week’s Culture Gabfest:https://slate.com/podcasts/culture-gabfest/2021/01/why-lupin-is-so-popular-on-netflix-right-now) So if I want to have a BLT, I am just going to jolly well have to cook the bacon.
Years ago a friend who worked at Bon Appétit magazine told us the foolproof way of cooking bacon. She is never wrong. Anthony Bourdain later extolled the same method, so I feel abundantly secure in passing this along to you. Forget cooking bacon on top of the stove – roast it in the oven. Less splatter, less smell, and you can cook more pieces in one cooking event than you can in a frying pan. Plus it gives you a little time to read the paper, always a plus in my book.https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/common-mistakes/article/the-4-most-common-bacon-cooking-mistakes
Now that the years have been flowing past, we have streamlined this process – because who wants to clean the oven rack? Not me. I still roast the bacon (we always use thick-cut bacon so be sure to watch your cooking time), but now we cook it on a sheet of parchment paper, and at 425ºF for 15 minutes. I don’t need to flip it. It is easy to pour the bacon fat into a container for use later on – you’ve cooked enough bacon that you can make some killer croutons for a wilted spinach salad. Now go toast some nice thick bread – ciabatta, brioche or challah. Yumsters.
For the persnickety, add a fried egg to the sandwich so you can differentiate it from a lunchtime meal. If you must. Or get very fancy, à la Food52: https://food52.com/recipes/36321-the-blt-benedict. And if we ever have houseguests again, I think this would be delightful: https://food52.com/recipes/30772-blt-revised There is nothing like a little Old Bay kicker first thing in the morning!
Be patient as you wait for the vaccine. Dr. Faucci says it is coming down the pike. In the meantime, practice your bacon cooking. This weekend I am going to try to bake my own salt bagels. Then I’ll never have to go out again!
“You know, it’s hard to beat bacon at anytime of day. But I also am a big fan of corned beef hash.”