Here’s a really neat trick for making the best crispy bacon with no splatter.
Once a month some other willing volunteers and I gather very early in the morning at a church in The Beach area of Toronto’s east end to make breakfast for a couple of dozen homeless people under the Out of the Cold program. Others in the group handle a full dinner the night before and supervise the sleeping arrangements and other teams fill in the balance of the month.
The Saint Aidan’s Out of the Cold program began in the winter a decade ago, during a record cold spell, with the simple idea that no one should die in the cold because of the lack of a roof over their head. The church opened its doors for dinner, beds and breakfast once a week between November and April. Additional local people in need of a chance to socialize with others and have a good dinner join the crowd in the evening. Social services are provided by the staff of Dixon Hall, but all the food preparation, cooking, serving and clean up is done by volunteers.
We may wonder at the circumstances that brought these folk to our shelter, but we never pry. Some are on the street by choice, others by circumstances. We treat them as guests and give them a safe, clean and hospitable place to call home once a week.
We don’t try to solve the problems of homelessness, but every contribution helps a little. As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Mostly our guests are men, but there are some women who come, and occasionally couples. They are of every age, size and ethnicity. They have to be fit enough to get to the church at the eastern extremity of Queen Street and make it up and down our many stairs, but recently we had a blind guest who seemed to manage. They’re a resilient bunch and we see many of the same faces week after week and year after year.
One of the most in-demand breakfast items is bacon, and for the past few months I’ve been on the bacon and breakfast sausage detail. Occasionally, I’m the cook in charge of the whole meal, but usually I’m a willing second (or third) banana. Steve wrangles the eggs and hash browns and Tineke makes a fabulous fresh fruit salad. We all share the washing up duties.
Because of the volume, I pre-cook the bacon and sausages the night before and then store them in the fridge and warm them up in the church’s huge gas oven in the morning. This seems to work well. But the trick is to cook the bacon and pork sausages in an oven, with water.
- 1 lb/500 g bacon per four to six people
Preparation and cooking
- Preheat the oven to 400°/205° and prepare one or more baking trays by lining them with aluminum foil.
- Lay the bacon rashers evenly on the trays, but not touching, and slot into the oven.
- TIP: Add about ¼ cup of cold water to each tray, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. As the water steams off, it stops the fat splattering and keeps the oven clean. After the water evaporates the browning and crisping process starts, so a little trial and experimentation is needed here, to get the timing exactly right and using more or less water. If you are using two trays, put one in the bottom third and one in the top third of the oven. You might find the top one cooks quicker, so at the half-way mark, swap the trays for even results. There’s no need to touch the bacon or turn it.
- Bake for 15 to 20 mins, until browned and crisp.
- ANOTHER TIP: For even crisper bacon, drape the rashers on a rack over the pan and above the water. This allows the heat to cook all around each rasher and will usually take less time.
- Layer two or three folds of paper towel on a plate and transfer the cooked bacon onto the towels to drain off excess grease before serving.
- CLEAN-UP: The foil should trap all the grease, so clean-up is a breeze. Just fold the grease into the foil and discard.
On Out of the Cold days, I use two ovens and four trays and cook enough bacon for two dozen people in 40 minutes, with another 20 minutes for the sausages. All done in an hour, which saves a lot of effort at zero five dark the next morning.
Thanks to my daughter Megan for helping take the bacon photos. For more on bacon, read: IS BACON ETHICAL?
NEWS UPDATE: My fully illustrated e-book, Market to Table: The Cookbook started as a project for novice cooks, but after I was picked to host a cooking show featuring food bought at farmers’ markets, developed into a more complete collection of the recipes from the series, including some from guest chefs on the show, as well as those from my well-read foodie blog. It is easy to read, divided into chapters that cover the main mealtimes of the day, and into recipes that are concise and guaranteed to work. Most recipes are accompanied by an entertaining story. Brilliant young Chef Dan Frenette, who now hosts the TV series, has written the Foreword and contributes to the book.
Categories: Market to Table