Perfection, as Marco Pierre White once said, is just a matter of doing several little things well. He would know. The chap was the first Englishman to win three Michelin stars, and when he won his third, he was the youngest Chef – of any nationality – to do so. I would take his advice on almost any culinary question, but not on the humble bacon sandwich. I am the expert on this one.
Perfection starts, obviously, with the bacon. The stuff which is sold in the supermarkets these days – all packed in plastic trays and sealed with yet more plastic – is not bacon. It is a grotesque imitation of bacon. This strange substance looks like bacon, but that is where the similarities end. This substance is sliced wafer-thin – so thin it is almost transparent – and is packed with additives and salty water. So bloated with fluid is this rubbish, that if you attempt to fry it you find the meat – if it can be called that – is boiling in liquid within seconds of hitting the frying pan. It sloshes about in a cloudy broth which slowly burns and bubbles away, leaving a curly, burnt mess. The pan is left with rust coloured sticky bits stuck to the bottom. If you attempt to grill this sort of “packed for convenience” junk, it curls up yet again, making it difficult to cook evenly, and shrinks to a tenth of its original size if you cook it either way.
Do the supermarkets sell this rubbish this way because we want it or force it upon us, knowing we will soon forget what came before? Real bacon – at the very least – must be sold loose. Before the bacon sandwich can be attempted, one needs to find either a decent supermarket or a proper Butcher. The Butcher is the better option.
The only cut worthy of the bacon sandwich is middle – smoked middle. The sandwich begins by grappling with the meat.
The whole slab of smoked middle must be taken in hand, and a knife inserted into the “joint” between middle and streaky. Saw upwards, separating the two. Then, the bacon must be laid across the grill-pan. This is done on a “one for you, one for me” basis. This is to say, alternate between a middle piece and a streaky piece. This is not about being even, but a requirement for the sandwich. Middle has the most meat, streaky the majority of the fat. Fat is a better carrier of flavour than meat, but meat makes the weight. Both are necessary. Place under a hot grill, but not too close to the flame. (Never cook bacon using one of those horrid, curly electric-bar grills. Gas only.)
As the bacon grills you will notice it hardly shrinks, retains its shape, and maybe only the rind will curl. (The rind needs special attention and will be mentioned later.)
Now is the time to prepare the bread. A “medium sliced white” will never do. For perfection – as Marco understands the word – a seeded and unsliced bloomer is the only choice. These loaves are fatter in the middle than the ends, and both slices for the sandwich need to be roughly the same size, so cut the loaf just shy of half way, and discard the smaller half. Then, cut two thick slices. As you do this, the poppy seeds from the bloomer will fall onto the plate or chopping board. Do not worry about this. They will be taken care of.
Next comes the butter. Goat’s butter is better because it has a creamier taste, and is slightly smoother. Whichever butter you choose, you had better have researched the saltiness of the smoked middle against the saltiness of the butter, and balanced accordingly. Butter the bread right to the edges, leaving no crumb without its coating; then, flip the slices upside down and pick up all the loose poppy seeds by blotting on the chopping board or plate. Now, check the bacon.
There should be a slight curl and shrinkage to the rashers, but nothing too much. They should still look about the same size as they did when you popped them under the grill. However, you should see clear bubbles of fat dancing upon the surface. These are more obvious upon the white fat than the red meat, but should be noticed. When these clear bubbles have a red or rust coloured crust, turn the bacon.
The second side takes much less time than the first, so you must stay close. Also, the cooked second side looks different from the first. It doesn’t bubble or colour in the same way. When you are convinced the second side is done, then the rind requires your attention.
The garbage which is sold in the plastic packets tends to have no rind. It is removed thanks to something to do with “health”. The rind is one of the best bits about a bacon sandwich, and needs to be loved. This is what you do. Take the bacon from the grill – you must move quickly – and place on a plate. Pick the rasher up and peel the rind by tearing at an end. This takes skill because we do not want to rip the meat. If you have enough delicacy, you will be left with a meaty rubber-band dangling from your fingers. Eat this straight away. Do this with all the rashers. If you do not burn your fingers you have been too slow, but the sandwich might still be saved.
Place the rashers on one piece of buttered bread, piling them up. Put the second piece of bread on top, and leave for a second. The heat from the bacon will melt the Goat’s butter.
During this interlude, go to the fridge and pull out the cold milk. Pour yourself a glass. Then, attack the sandwich with all the ferocity you can muster. The fresh bread will give; the meaty bacon will give (remember you have already consumed the rind. This prevents tugging too hard and ripping the bread. Think of the problems offered by a steak sandwich and you’ll get the idea.)
When the sandwich is gone, slug the milk down in no more than two gulps. At this stage, cigarettes are optional.