TORONTO - Bacon is sizzling among foodies as chefs, recipe developers, bloggers and home cooks all tout the meaty little snack.

Beyond bacon and eggs, lovers of the cured meat have long crumbled bits of it over salad or into quiche. But lately innovators are pairing the flexible little strips with the unexpected: baking it into cookies, covering it with chocolate and using it to garnish manly cupcakes, perfect for Super Bowl fare.

There's even Bacon Today, a blog which extols the joy of "sweet, sweet bacon."

Then there are products created using bacon as their base.

 

Enter Skillet Bacon Spread, for example, created by chef Josh Henderson. It's made by rendering good-quality bacon, adding spices, balsamic vinegar, onions and brown sugar, and simmering it for several hours. It's then pureed, and the result is a thick condiment with a flavour that's sweet and savoury.

Henderson, 39, proprietor of Skillet Street Food in Seattle, developed the bacon spread several years ago as a topping for his specialty burgers, which consist of grass-fed beef, arugula and cambozola. He likes to think of himself as a "pioneer" in the development of the condiment, ahead of the bacon trend that seems to have swept through the food world.

"We like to put it on our burger, serve it on crostini, perhaps on a grilled cheese, as a substitute for bacon on a BLT, or maybe the base for a vinaigrette," as well as on a cheese platter with pickled vegetables and crackers, said Henderson in an interview from Seattle, where he was also ahead of the curve with his wheeled gourmet venue, which he launched in 2007.

Henderson, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1998, started a small business catering for photographers on photo shoots and from there developed his approach to mobile food.

"It was something that would keep me closer to home and I felt like there was a niche for high-end street food," Henderson says. "I didn't feel like it was being explored at that time and it really wasn't, even nationally," he says. In the meantime, the gourmet street food trend has exploded, both in the U.S. and across Canada.

From his vintage Airstream trailer he cooks up sockeye salmon chowder, duck confit and a pie of the week using fresh seasonal ingredients. But the emphasis is on the classics, burgers and poutine.

"People started tasting (bacon jam) on their burger and then just wanting to order it. It's kind of the classic story of people wanting to buy it separate from the truck and it really kind of ... ended up saving the business because we were pretty close to folding a couple of years ago."

He said they received a big rush of orders when domestic maven Martha Stewart and Real Simple magazine put it in their holiday gift guide in 2009. The spike in sales prompted him to hire someone to make it for them and package it for sale the following year.

Last fall, Loblaw launched citrusy-sweet Bacon Marmalade in its President's Choice black label line, which features products normally found in specialty gourmet stores. The company recommends spreading this marmalade on toast, grilled meat, sandwich bread or crackers and cheese.

Henderson, who now also has a diner in the hip Capitol Hill area of Seattle, says he likes to use bacon jam as a "finisher" for dishes.

"It can become an ingredient, you know an actual ingredient in a recipe, like maybe even in a scone, but typically speaking I look at it more as a pesto where you finish something with it."

Henderson jokingly calls his creation "trailer park rillettes." The Food Dictionary defines rillettes as pieces of meat, usually pork but also rabbit, goose, poultry or fish, that are slowly cooked in seasoned fat and then pounded or pulverized (along with some of the fat) into a paste. This mixture is packed in small pots and covered with a thin layer of fat. The smooth pate is served cold, usually as an appetizer spread on toast or bread.

Henderson's Skillet Bacon Spread is available in specialty stores in four provinces — Nova Scotia, Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario — or it can be ordered online. Visit skilletstreetfood.com for information. If you want to try your hand at making your own version, there are numerous recipes on the Internet.

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