Bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme
When my friend, Claudia, and I ate at Alinea in July, one of our favorite dishes was this very one. Visually, it's quite striking, and you can see how the restaurant serves it by clicking here (and then sliding the little, blue slider thingy all the way to the right, since it's the next to last photo) or by referring to page 117 of your hymnals, I mean Alinea cookbooks. When Claudia posted her photo of it on her blog, a commenter referred to it as "bacon on a sex swing" which stuck in my head because it is the same number of syllables as "heroes on the half-shell" which naturally requires the response of "turtle power!" if you are a nerd like I am.
And now that I've lost fully 85% of my readership, let's carry on.
I wanted to do this dish first, not only because I refuse to believe that bacon has jumped the shark, but also because it seemed like something I could do without great catastrophe. Another reason I was drawn to this dish is because the recipe features one of many photos in the book that include hands preparing the food. Look, I love gorgeous food photography as much as the next guy, but one thing I love about the Alinea cookbook is that you actually see people's hands in the shots as they're working with and plating the food. They're beautifully done, and maybe a lot of cookbooks do this, but for some reason, it really stands out for me in this book.
It's my goal with this project to follow the instructions as explicitly as possible, but I kinda fudged the goal with the very first step because the recipe asks that your bacon be 1/16" thick, and mine was 1/8" thick. I'd just bought it from my guy at Smith Meadows, and it comes already-sliced, so there you go.
I don't own a food dehydrator (a Bedazzler, yes, but not a dehydrator), so I followed the instructions for dehyrating the bacon, but did it in a 170-degree oven instead.
Here are the bacon slices (about 4" long apiece) on a parchment-lined baking sheet before they went into the oven:
And, here they are three hours later (and after three parchment sheet changes, so that they didn't stew in their own grease):
I let them cool to room temperature, then stored them in a Tupperware container.
Next up? The apple leather ribbons. This was the only step in the process I was sort of fertutzed about, because I knew it had the potential to be fantastic, or go horribly, horribly wrong.
I cored and halved two Granny Smith apples and put them. flesh-down, on a Silpat-lined baking sheet:
Into a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes they went... and had I remembered the second part of that sentence in the cookbook, which went, "or until they are very soft," I might not have ended up with this:
Whoopsie. Although, technically, they were very soft, so you know.... not a complete misstep.
The book then instructs to "scoop the flesh from apple halves into a bowl" and "transfer flesh to blender and blend until smooth" which I had to translate to be "pick up the poor, sad apple peels and scrape the apple glop into a bowl because it's as smooth as it's gonna get, child."
I strained this apple purée through a chinois, and then spread what came out the other end onto a Pam-sprayed sheet of acetate.
Here's an interesting little bit about the acetate -- I called a bunch of cooking and baking supply shops, and not one of them carried acetate sheets. They all referred me to an art supply shop, which I was in denial about and then finally had to cave and go there because it was my only resource. See, here's the thing about me and art. We are not, nor were we ever, sittin' in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g because growing up, I had no patience generally in life, but especially when it came to learning how to draw that stupid point on that stupid sheet of paper, then making those horizon lines, and call it "perspective," and in fact my 7th-grade art teacher sent me to the principal's office because when he rather harshly critiqued my really horrible, quarter-assed attempt at perspective drawing, I said something like, "well my perspective on all this is that it's a waste of my time" which he didn't find funny, even though I thought I was quite clever, and HOLY SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS, WOMAN, WOULD YOU JUST GET BACK TO THE COOKING PART OF THIS POST ALREADY, why yes, I will.
So, I overcame my fear and loathing of art supply stores (also, there are always hippies in there, and ew), and got some acetate sheets, onto which I used an offset spatula to spread the now-strained apple purée.
This went into a 160-degree oven for 45 minutes, and it came out looking like this:
The book refers to it needing to have the texture of fruit leather, which it sort of did, but with a lacy appearance, so naturally, as I'm typing this I'm now hearing Stevie Nicks in my head bein' all "give to me your leather, take from me, my lace" and I do not need to be song poisoned right now, so let's keep moving on.
While the apple leather (lace) was in the oven, I made the butterscotch. Whoever invented butterscotch should get the Congressional Medal of Something or Other because as much as I love caramel, I love butterscotch even more. It's my favorite sauce on all kinds of ice cream (especially coffee ice cream; try it sometime), and I just love everything about it. Theoretically, it's not difficult to make. The ingredients are easy to come by: sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream... it's just the stirring and the heat of the liquid, and the chance that you could really burn yourself if you're not careful that makes me pay extra special attention when I make it.
I heated the sugar and corn syrup over medium heat until it had reached 350 degrees, then added in the cream very slowly -- that's where all the hotty-splatterness happens, and had I not been wearing a silicone oven mitt, I might still be on painkillers from the searing pain of losing parts of my flesh where the liquid propelled its way out of the pan and onto me. When you add the cream, the temperature falls, so I heated it back up to 240 degrees until it was done, and poured it onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet to cool to room temperature.
Damnit, I'm still humming "Leather and Lace."
While this was cooling, I went out into the garden to pick some fresh thyme, and then tried to slice the apple leather into ribbons, but it just wasn't happening. So instead, I trimmed small pieces of apple lace, which you'll see in the final plating.
I laid the bacon pieces next to one another on a cutting board. Then, I scooped up the liquid butterscotch and put it into a pastry bag with a small tip (honestly, you could use a ziploc bag with a tiny bit of one of the corners snipped off if you don't have a pastry bag). Going back and forth, left to right and back again, over the top of the bacon (the tip of the bag was about 4 inches above the surface of the bacon), I drizzled the butterscotch over the whole row of bacon, then topped each piece with a piece of apple lace, a tiny pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and added a thyme tip.
Since I have been saving my hard-earned pennies for a new pair of Christian Louboutins instead of eight bacon sex swings (not that they're not beautiful, because they are, but mama actually does need a new pair of shoes, economy be damned, and p.s., the bacon service pieces are backordered, so I couldn't even have gotten them if I wanted to, so there), I presented the bacon quite nicely on a plate, and called the neighbors who came over a minute later.
Here's what greeted them on my dining room table:
I want to make out with whomever was first decided to pair pork with butterscotch, because wow.
I remember this dish being good at Alinea, but it was nice to be reminded of it once again.
The bacon was tender, yet not crispy, and not really too chewy, either. It was just the right consistency. The apple had a nice tang to it, but it was also a little sweet, and the texture worked nicely. The butterscotch? Totally pulls this bite together, but the thing I think I liked the most is that when you put the whole piece in your mouth, the first three "chews" yield salt, sweet, and an almost creaminess, and then the fourth chew is totally aromatic as the thyme opens up and brightens everything.
Really outstanding, and totally doable at home. Just work on the apple leather a little bit -- spread it a little thinner, maybe watch it a little more closely to make sure it's drying evenly. Or, wing it and see what works best for you. When the apple leather didn't turn out the way I'd hoped, I thought about doing a small, teeny-tiny dice of a fresh Granny Smith apple and sprinkling it like confetti over the bacon and butterscotch, but then figured that might not be as gentle or smooth a taste and texture as the original preparation intends. Regardless, these flavors together are gorgeous, and it makes me want to throw a holiday party, just so I can serve these. Or, maybe I'll throw a holiday party, forget to mail the invitations, make a batch or two of bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme and eat it all by myself. Is that so wrong?
Up Next: Dry Caramel, salt
Resources: Bacon from Smith Meadows Farm, Domino sugar, Karo corn syrup, Organic Valley heavy cream, apples from Whole Foods, thyme from my garden.
Music to Cook By: Rush; Moving Pictures. If you've followed me over here from French Laundry at Home, you may recall that my neighbor's kids graciously let me sit in on their Rock Band tours (and by that I mean that I totally boss them around and make them do the same song sixteen billion times until I get 100% on it), and I am so proud to announce that I recently scored a 91% on "Tom Sawyer" on MEDIUM. NOT EASY, people, MEDIUM. How is that not breaking news on CNN? Wouldn't you rather see footage of me schooling the great Neil Peart on "Tom Sawyer" on Rock Band than yet another stinkin' campaign rally? I thought so. The voters have spoken, CNN. Let's run with this...
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