MMMMMM ... the sputter of frying bacon. An artery-clogging symphony for the ears.
Oooh, that scrumptious, maple-y aroma wafting from the skillet. Can't wait. At last! There they lie, crispy strips, straight as sentinels, flanking perfectly fried eggs. Ah, the salty, smoky, crunch of that first bite.
Oh, no. You can't even grease palms to sneak into Baconfest Chicago on Saturday at the Stan Mansion in Logan Square. The founders of the 12-course bacon-centric feast announced the event at noon March 4 on Twitter and Facebook. Pork-belly-crazed fans snapped up all 800 tickets within 15 minutes.
They underestimated the appeal of saturated fats, Baconfest co-founder Andre Pluess admitted. "If we had a bigger venue, we'd have sold four times as many tickets. We have a waiting list that's miles, miles long. We're going to do it bigger next year," he promised.
Most of the guests -- and 23 of the 24 chefs serving up bacon-powered fantasies -- are men, co-founder Michael Griggs said. Why? "Guys like bacon," he speculated.
The bacon-loving buds with theater ties were inspired to pay homage to cured pork after catching The Neo-Futurists production of "Beer" last January. If a theater could salute suds, they reasoned, they could pay tribute to slabs of salty goodness. Chicago, Hog Butcher to the World, was a fitting backdrop.
They rounded out their duo with pal/food blogger Seth Zurer and the three Chicago 30somethings girded their loins. The revue idea fizzled, but a proposal for a sit-down banquet sizzled.
The trio hosted a 10-chef bacon cook-off last fall for 60 spectators. The event sold out, and the resulting bacon buzz slicked the way to Saturday's bigger, meatier sequel. This time the guys have sponsors, 24 local chefs vying for Golden Rasher honors, and multiple vendors offering bacon-themed merchandise at a bacon expo. Bacon-flavored lip balm, anyone? A hammy handbag?
The menu includes Chicken-Fried Cherrywood-Smoked Bacon with Cherry Ketchup on a Brioche, with Homemade Pickle (Michael McDonald of onesixtyblue), Canadian Bacon Gnocchi with Morel Mushrooms and Artichokes Sauce (Giuseppe Tentori of Boka) and Bacon Pate and Candied Bacon Tea Cookies (Thomas Bowman of Otom).
The entertainment features cooking demos, odes to bacon in song and verse, and bacon-fueled drinks.
The lineup "is pretty indulgent," Griggs confirmed. "We are no poster children for moderation."
There are ground rules. There are two dinner shifts. Guests are advised to pace themselves through one sitting only. Each patron is responsible for calling their own ambulance.
For their part, the chefs must use real bacon. Sliced, streaky, and rasher-style are fine. Vegan, turkey and FrankenBacon varieties are taboo. These "are not bacon," Griggs said. "Bacon comes from the belly of a pig. We're willing to debate (the issue of) Canadian bacon."
At press time, chefs were tight-lipped on pork-licious creations in store. Baconfest sponsor Nueske's, purveyor of applewood-smoked meats in Wisconsin, shared these recipes so readers can stage their own Baconfests at home.
Avocado and Pepper-Coated Bacon Sandwiches
8 slices Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Pepper-Coated Bacon
1 large, firm avocado
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped.
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 slices bread of your choice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
DIRECTIONS: Cook bacon in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning bacon until crisp. When crispy, transfer bacon to paper towel or another surface, for draining. In a medium bowl, mix the mayonnaise, chives, dill, salt and pepper. Halve, pit and peel the avocado. Slice lengthwise. Gently toss the slices with lemon juice. Spread the herb mayonnaise on two slices of the toast (or all four, if you prefer) and stack the sprouts, bacon, avocado on the sandwiches.
Makes two sandwiches.
6 slices smoked bacon, diced small
10 large fresh mushrooms
3 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon garlic, minced (optional)
DIRECTIONS: Fry bacon in large skillet. Remove bacon and set aside. Clean the mushrooms and remove the stem. Mix the bacon, cream cheese, cheddar cheese (and garlic, if desired). Fill each mushroom cap. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place mushrooms on baking sheet or shallow pan and bake for 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Broiled Bacon-Wrapped Scallops
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
Freshly ground pepper
12 large scallops
6 Strips of Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Bacon, cut in half
Long toothpicks or skewers
DIRECTIONS: Mix olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over scallops and marinate, refrigerated, for just about an hour. Wrap each scallop with a half-strip of bacon. Secure bacon to the scallop with a toothpick or, if you have skewers, put several scallops on each one. Place on a broiler pan and broil until lightly golden and the bacon is done. Serve hot.
Tips: Water chestnuts can be substituted for scallops. Soak toothpicks for an hour or two to keep them from burning in the oven. If you want your bacon more crispy, cook it until just starting to brown (while it’s still flexible) and then wrap it around the scallops. If you want to pan fry your scallops, pre-cook your bacon a little as stated above.
Makes 4 servings.
Spicy Candied Bacon Appetizer
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground (for extra heat, use crushed red pepper flakes)
1 pound bacon.
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place flour, sugar and pepper in a resealable plastic bag and shake to mix. Add a few strips of bacon at a time to the mixture in the bag and shake to coat. Place the coated bacon onto a baking sheet or broiler pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until bacon has reached desired doneness.