Despite its extraordinary popularity in commercial foodservice over the past decade, bacon shows no sign of losing its grip on the palates of dining consumers. And while some of the more extreme offerings, such as all-you-can-eat bacon baskets and bacon-wrapped bacon, have (thankfully) run their course, the menus of newly opened restaurants in major U.S. cities continue to feature new and innovative bacon dishes, plying it as both a center-of-the-plate ingredient and flavoring component.
By far the most intriguing treatment my team have encountered in our trend-tracking expeditions of late is pulled bacon, served on a sandwich at Animals, a tiny, eight-stool annex attached to The Wayland, a popular bar in Manhattan’s Alphabet City neighborhood.
The process for making pulled bacon is ingeniously simple. Whole slab bacon (cured and smoked, not fresh pork belly) is brined in apple cider and bourbon for up to a week, then braised, pot-roast style, and hand pulled, resulting in an indulgently rich, sweet, smoky and spoon-tender meat.
The sandwich served at Animals is assembled Latin torta style. A baguette is first smeared with frijoles made in-house from Southern-style baked beans rather than pintos. The pulled bacon is layered on and topped with red cabbage slaw, sliced avocado, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, and finished with a drizzle of chile mayonnaise—a singularly delicious sandwich.
Naturally, our tasting was shortly followed with our own R&D. The brine recipe we developed in our test kitchen contains no herbs or spices that might mask the bacon’s flavor. It is sufficient to brine up to 20 pounds of slab bacon.
Of course, pulled bacon’s unique qualities could transform an array of dishes across menu parts, creating new riffs on classic handhelds, burgers, pizza and flatbreads, and a wide variety of shareable plates.
Pulled bacon can bring new life to an array of snacks and shareables. Layer it with caramelized onions, grits, mashed baked beans and garlic aïoli for a savory parfait.
French Dip: Combine one part reserved braising liquid and one part pork stock. Serve in a cup alongside a toasted baguette filled with pulled bacon.
Patty Melt: Layer slices of rye bread with pulled bacon, grilled onions and Swiss, cheddar or American cheese. Griddle until crispy.
Banh Mi: Fill a toasted baguette with pulled bacon, a smear of liver sausage or pâté, pickled julienne carrots, cucumber, thinly sliced jalapeño, cilantro and a generous slather of mayonnaise.
Breakfast Biscuit: Start as simple as pulled bacon, egg and cheddar, or go upscale with toppings such as goat cheese, Brie, flavored butters, grilled pineapple, dried cherries and jams, including tomato, jalapeño, cranberry and orange.
Top your favorite burger with a generous mound of pulled bacon and garnish as desired, or blend one part chopped pulled bacon and two parts ground beef and form into patties.
Tacos and Burritos
The unique flavor and texture of pulled bacon could take tortilla-based handhelds in a new direction. Toppings, sauces and garnishes could be drawn from a wide range of global cuisines, including Latin, Asian and contemporary American.
Modernize an egg roll by adding pulled bacon to the filling.
Supplant conventional bacon pieces with pulled bacon on classic pizza treatments, such as bacon cheeseburger or bacon, lettuce and tomato.
Shareable Plates and Snacks
Arancini: Enhance your favorite fried rice ball recipe by stuffing the center with a small amount of pulled bacon.
Polpette: Roll chilled pulled bacon into small balls or fingers. Coat with your preferred breading mixture.
Parfait: Using a 4- to 5-oz. glass, create a pulled bacon “parfait” with alternating layers of caramelized onions, cheesy grits, mashed baked beans and garlic aïoli. Garnish with chive or cilantro sprigs, or crisp bacon.
Egg Roll: Add pulled bacon to a classic cabbage-based egg roll filling, or make modern versions such as mushroom and Swiss, grilled bell pepper and onion, or try Buffalo style with celery relish, blue cheese and pepper sauce.
“Poppers”: Stuff halved and seeded jalapeño peppers with pulled bacon and shredded cheddar or jack cheese. Coat with your preferred breading mixture.