A while ago I posted about pancetta and how I like to keep it handy for cooking with. While I do love pancetta, I have recently decided that I really am an all-American gal, because, deep down, cured pig just ain't the same without that smoked flavor. So last time I was at the market, I specifically looked for some of the thickest cut, hardwood smoked bacon I could find.
When I am cooking with bacon, especially as small pieces, I think thicker is better. When I make bacon to eat as strips, I like it thinner as I am all about the thin, crispiness. I specifically bought this thick-cut bacon to cook with. I'll use it as the base for soups. I'll use it in fried rice. Oh! And don't forget about pasta carbonara! There are any number of recipes in which bacon is a useful, flavorful addition. But sometimes, it's a star in its own right. These little bacon bits are divine. Crispy and salty, smokey and just slightly sweet. They are the perfect addition to any salad and a darn sight better than those fake bacon "bits." (Bits of what, I'm not sure - it sure isn't bacon!).
To prepare bacon to be useful for cooking, I open up the package and freeze the strips individually. This allows me to easily grab out however many strips I need at any moment. They thaw so quickly this way that you can pull them out and use them right away. I love convenience! Be sure to line the tray on which you plan to freeze your bacon with parchment so that you can easily get the slices apart once they're frozen. Later, I remove them from the sheet and place them into a zip top bag. Voila! Bacon is at the ready for a shot of flavor anytime!
To make the bacon bits, cut the bacon strip into small pieces. You can do this while the bacon it still frozen; it'll all come out the same in the end. Place the pieces into a skillet over medium heat. You want the heat low enough that all of the excess fat can render out before the pieces get too browned. Stir periodically, adjusting the heat if necessary.
When the bacon is just about done and is nicely browned and completely rendered (required if you want a crispy bacon bit), drain off as much of the excess fat as possible, turn off the heat, and then add a small dollop of real maple syrup. Don't go overboard, here. You want them to have a slightly sweet, maple essence, not become a sticky gloppy mess! Keep the bits moving for a minute or so and then let them cool completely in the pan. In this case, you do not want to remove the bits onto paper towels to drain because the sugars will cause them to stick to the paper. If you want, when draining the fat, you can pat them with paper towels to sop up the extra grease, but once the syrup is on there, paper towels are anathema. Once they are completely cooled, sprinkle over your favorite salad and enjoy their salty, sweet crunch!