Some food aromas, wafting through the kitchen, really tantalise the taste buds. Bacon is one of them.
Its appeal is worldwide but has led to some rather peculiar creations.
Such an oddity is a United States curiosity of cooked bacon coated in melted chocolate, and sprinkled with salt and chopped pistachios.
Then there is the Bacon Sundae - soft-freeze yoghurt topped with caramel sauce and crisp bacon pieces.
Not for me, but I do like bacon in all the ways most Kiwis enjoy it - with eggs, tomatoes, avocado in a sandwich and, of course, eggs benedict.
It's also a flavoursome addition to sauces and casseroles.
Recently, I was a judge at the 100 per cent New Zealand Bacon & Ham Competition.
It was interesting to note the variety of cures on offer that were all in one class.
The overall winner was a middle bacon from Ellesmere Butchery in Leeston, near Christchurch.
The rashers were picture-perfect, in their raw and cooked state, plus they were sweet, tasty and tender.
"You don't want the bacon to stew - you need to draw as much moisture out as possible," says Ellesmere Butchery's Chris Brown.
"You can't rush the process. Precision is everything - our award-winning sugar-cured rashers took about 10 days to perfect."
The traditional cut to use when bacon is the key ingredient in a recipe.
This popular rasher comes from the tail of the middle - the belly - and is excellent for rolling around other meats, fish or vegetables such as asparagus.
Shoulder bacon is placed in a casing to give it a neat, round shape once it is cured and smoked. An excellent bacon to combine with other ingredients.
These thickly sliced, rindless middle bacon cuts are great for pan-frying, grilling or on the barbecue.
Store unopened vacuum-packed bacon in the refrigerator. Once opened, sliced bacon can be refrigerated for a week.
Wrap rashers in kitchen (luncheon) paper and allow a little air to circulate around the meat. This prevents the rashers from becoming slimy.
PRAWN & CORN CHOWDER WITH BACON
Bacon adds flavour to chowder as well as making an attractive garnish.
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 rashers shoulder bacon, diced
3 cups whole kernel corn, thawed slightly
4 spring onions
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cups milk
1/2 tsp each: mixed dried herbs, lemon pepper
1 & 1/2 cups water
500g raw prawn cutlets
freshly ground salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Saute the bacon until crisp. Remove to one side. Place the corn in a food processor and mix until smooth and creamy.
Cut the spring onions into green and white lengths. Thinly slice both. Add the potatoes and the white strips of spring onions to the saucepan.
Saute until the onions are tender. Add the milk, seasonings, corn and water. Simmer, stirring often, for about 12 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Add the prawns and green spring onion strips and heat gently until the prawns turn just opaque. Serve topped with the bacon. Serves 6 as a light meal.
BACON STEAKS WITH MUSHROOMS
4 medium bacon steaks
1-2 tbsp olive oil
400g brown button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper
4 slices ciabatta, lightly toasted
3 tbsp each: sweet chilli sauce, lemon juice
Snip the edges of the bacon steaks to prevent curling during cooking. Grill or pan-fry the steaks in a little oil for about two to three minutes each side. Meanwhile, heat the oil and saute the mushrooms for three to four minutes or until cooked.
Toss together with the parsley and pepper.
Place each steak on a slice of ciabatta and top with the mushrooms. Drizzle with the combined sweet chilli sauce and lemon juice. Serves 4.
BEAN & BACON CASSOULET
250g shoulder bacon, diced
1 tbsp bacon fat or butter
1 large onion, diced
500g lean minced pork
400g can crushed tomatoes in juice
2 carrots, diced
bouquet garni eg rosemary, thyme, parsley, bay leaves tied with string
420g can butter beans
2 cups beef stock
2 chorizo sausages
Saute the onion in the bacon fat or butter, until soft. Add the mince and stir-fry until coloured. Pour off any excess fat.
Add the bacon, crushed tomatoes and juice, carrots and herbs. Preheat the oven to 160C.
Place half the beans in the base of a large casserole, top with the meat mixture and then the remaining beans. Add enough stock so the beans are covered. Cover tightly and cook for an hour.
Cut the chorizo into 3cm rounds and add to the casserole. Extra vegetables, such as green beans or cabbage, could be added at this stage. Cover and continue cooking about 30 minutes. Serves 6.
BACON & VEGETABLE STACK
2 slices chewy bread such as ciabatta or focaccia
4 rashers middle bacon
1 large green pepper (capsicum)
1 large tomato
4 medium portabello mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
2 slices haloumi cheese
chopped herbs to garnish
Lightly toast the bread slices and place in the centre of two serving plates. Microwave or grill the bacon, until crisp. Halve and seed the green pepper, slice the tomato into four rounds.
Remove the stalks from the mushrooms. Toss the vegetables with a little oil then char-grill.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and cook the cheese for about 40 seconds on each side.
Place one slice of the cheese on each slice of bread, then stack alternately with the bacon and vegetables.
Sprinkle with herbs.
Great drizzled with a little lemon juice. Serve immediately. Serves 2.