When I was a little girl, my dad would call from the kitchen – nearly every morning – offering to make me an egg for breakfast. And every morning (with an increasingly whiney tone as I morphed into an ungrateful teenager) I would answer, “Ewww, Dad! No! Gross!”
It wasn’t that I didn’t like eggs. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him making me eggs. In fact, my father was my breakfast idol; he always had perfectly toasted toast. He was the one that taught me how to carve canyons and crevasses in mountainous bowls of granola to protect it from getting soggy in the little sea of milk below. His eggs always appeared to have the happiest, most puncture-worthy yolks at the table. But he liked to fry those eggs in bacon fat, in a well-seasoned cast iron pan that he never washed and kept on the stovetop almost just to drive my mother bonkers. I, like her, couldn’t deal with the idea of that bacon grease, and thus, with bacon in general.
I was ruined on bacon well into my career as a competitive endurance athlete. Even beyond a point in time when my body needed a little extra fat (and flavor!) the most. Up until the day I met Allen Lim at the Skratch Labs food trailer during a bike race. He handed me a bacon rice cake after a particularly crushing 100-mile ride, which I (unknowingly) popped into my mouth, completely trusting his epicurean charisma. My eyes turned to emoji hearts on the spot, and I went from feeling like a shell of a human being to feeling like my avid, athletic self again. My heart didn’t stop and my world didn’t explode; in fact, it expanded to understand that:
just a little bit of flavor, and a little bit of fat, goes a long way to sate our hunger as athletes.
Why did my resistance to bacon continue, beyond that time when Dad’s pan faded into childhood memories? I suppose I was convinced that eating fat would make me fat; convinced that the less blatantly I consumed fat, the better off my body and performance would be. And, the less likely I was to have insatiable cravings for high-calorie, high-fat foods.
This all makes sense, right?
On a primitive level, our brains are 60 percent fat and require saturated fats for general brain function. Read: in order for your body to send appropriate signals associated with training, racing, and recovery, we need that fat! Furthermore, sports scientists have conducted recent studies that show that adding a moderate amount of fat to an athlete’s’ diet truly helps us to metabolize and use fat as fuel during our endeavors.
The takeaway: Our hungry brains need fat to tell our hard working bodies what we need in order to prepare for, continue on, and recover from our athletic pursuits.
I still don’t fry my eggs in bacon fat, but I almost always have a package of hand-cut bacon from the butcher in the fridge. In my kitchen, bacon is a condiment rather than a side (or main) dish. It pops up as crumbles on salad, as an ingredient in cookies, tossed into rice bowls and pasta dishes, and even on top of winter soups. There isn’t much that bacon isn’t welcomed to adorn, and below you’ll find the magic recipe for Carmelized Maple Bacon that transforms everyday slices into a transcendent, crispy, sweet and savory addition to any meal.
Caramelized Maple Bacon Recipe
Before getting started here are a few quick tips on the recipe, and on bacon in general: I always try to purchase the least processed, most local bacon I can. Typically this means having a little conversation at the meat counter or with my butcher before I purchase it to ask what I’m buying.
When you set out to make the recipe, know that lining the pan with a wire rack is essential to making sure your caramelized bacon is nice and crispy. Once the bacon is cooled, it will keep for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature so you can eat it in whole slices, use it as stirrers in a bloody mary, add it to sandwiches….the list goes on.
1 lb minimally processed, good quality bacon
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (NOT pancake syrup)
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1. Preheat your oven to 350 °F.
2. Wrap a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and top with a wire rack. This is important to make sure your bacon bakes up nice and crisp!
3. In a large bowl, combine the maple syrup, maple sugar, dijon mustard, kosher salt and cayenne pepper to make the glaze. Mix well.
4. Add the bacon to the bowl and toss with your hands to coat completely. Make sure that all of the bacon slices are evenly coated. Don’t fret if the bacon mixture seems a bit dry when tossing with the glaze ingredients. This is how it’s supposed to be!
5. Place the bacon in a single layer onto the prepared pan + wire rack.
6. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes. The bacon will be a bit brown and will most likely need to bake for another 10-15 minutes. It will look slightly dark (but not burnt!) when done, and will be nice and crispy. If you take the bacon out too soon, the texture will be chewy, not crisp. Be patient!
7. Remove the bacon from the oven and cool for 5 minutes on the rack. Then, the bacon is ready to be stored, crumbled, or eaten.
Store in an airtight container for up to one week. Serve at room temperature and be creative with how you employ your bacon!
Photos from Kevin Scott Batchelor.