Perfect Bacon Buttie
Ivy's Bay, Cornwall September 9, 2001 September
is probably my favourite month. Summers over, the kids are back
to school, were back to work. Yet there are always halcyon days,
all the better for coming along unexpectedly and serendipitously.
Take this past
weekend: after some days of unrelenting and unseasonal northerly winds,
the forecast suddenly was for brighter, calmer weather. So we decided
to head down to Cornwall to eke out the last of summer, camping at Mother
Ivys for a weekend of surfing and body surfing. On arrival, we
immediately headed to Constantine Bay Surf Shop to rent body boards,
a wetsuit for Lydia, and mini-Malibus for the boys.
When the weather
is fine, there is no better place on earth than the north Cornish coast,
with its extensive sandy beaches and rugged rocky coastline. From Padstow,
around Harlyn Bay, and Trevose Head to Boobys, Constantine and
Treyarnon, the land, still mainly agricultural and remarkably unspoiled,
comes down the sea and the coastal cliffs and rocky shoreline give way
to a succession of outstanding sandy beaches. Of course, this is Kims
old summer stomping ground, and visits invariably bring back a host
of teenage memories: campfires on the beach at Treyarnon, pints of cider
at the Farmers Arms in St. Merryn, the ugly sisters,
hanging out in the games room of the Trevose Golf Club, and many more.
Well, the surf
was brilliant, and we spent some hours in the sea at Boobys, simply
frolicking in the steady rollers that surge in from the Atlantic, Bella
and Lydia close in, Guy and Toby venturing out to where the big waves
tubed and the real surfers were hanging out on malibus. Afterwards,
we repaired to Mother Ivys, exhausted, exhilarated, cold and sandy.
Hot showers revived us and we enjoyed basking in the still warm, lingering
rays of the the setting sun, feasting on a simple outdoor meal of meats
grilled over charcoal, accompanied by a rich and thick ratatouille that
Kim had made earlier. Ice cold tins of lager never tasted so good.
The next morning
we all arose refreshed and anticipating another fine day in the surf.
But first time to stoke up with probably the finest and simplest of
all outdoor breakfast foods, bacon butties.
As with all
exceedingly simple foods, close attention to detail is required to achieve
perfect results. Heres how we do it. First of all, the bacon:
it must be dry-cured (preferably from Bar Woodall in Cumbria) and for
our taste, smoked. The best cut, I think, is middle-and-back as this
allows just the right mix of lean and fat. Slices should be thickish,
and the rind has to be snipped off first. The bread is equally uncompromising:
no brown rolls here, it should be soft, floury white baps, nothing else
will do. Other ingredients? Unsalted butter to spread on the baps and
your choice of sauce (marriages have been broken over disagreements
here so Im not going to lay down any laws).
The bacon must
be fried out of doors for at least half the pleasure comes from the
irresistable aromas that swirl around and drive your neighbours crazy
with envy and uncontrollable desire (unless they too are frying
up). If you want to see the epitome of self-satisfaction and smugness,
its the expression of someone cooking bacon outdoors on a pitch
next to a deprived, baconless family. Weve got an enormous heavy
skillet that we set up over a Spanish outdoor cooker, and this allows
us to cook a full pound of bacon at a time, enough to waft over the
entire campsite nearly. Sometimes children wander over and just stare
at that damn great sizzling skillet wistfully: we usually cant
resist and give them a nibble, or, if were feeling really generous
and flush with bacon, perhaps a mini-buttie or two.
As for our
method, we add a little oil to the skillet to keep the bacon from sticking,
and keep the flame moderate. Too low and the bacon sweats and releases
(especially if not top-quality dry cured) worryingly large amounts of
liquid gloop. Too high, on the other hand, and the bacon can overcook
and emerge as tough as boot leather. Make no mistake, close attention
to the flame, as well as constant vigilance in turning the bacon, transferring
less well done rashers to the hotter spots of the skillet, is absolutely
vital. We Americans, of course, like our bacon to be crispy, the fat
cooked entirely out, the bacon crunchy and even crumbly. Thick cut English
bacon, however, does not respond in quite the same fashion as thin American
streaky. Nonetheless, I still like to get the fat cooked until crunchy,
but the lean of the back must remain moist and still pliable. This can
be a fiendishly difficult balance to achieve.
While the bacon
is cooking, the baps should be split and heavily buttered with fresh,
preferably unsalted butter (never margarine or polyunsaturated spread).
The butter should not be spread too evenly, for you want, when the hot
bacon is slapped into the bap, the butter to sizzle and melt. You know
youve got it right when you pick up the buttie in your hands,
bite into it, and some of the melted butter mixed with bacon fat drizzles
down your chin.
Now for sauce.
This is, as Ive already suggested, a matter of extreme personal
preference. Some like their butties nude, that is with no additional
sauce. Cant understand for the life of me why. Others prefer
tomato ketchup, in which case, general consensus is that it has to be
Heinz. Others demand fruity sauce (a variety of brands are
available). Me, Ive come a long way since living in Britain now
for, what, over 20 years. A measure of how far Ive come is that
a) I can eat Marmite, and b) on bacon butties it has to be brown sauce,
either HP (as in Houses of Parliament) or Daddys. No other will
do. In fact, Id go so far as to say that a bacon buttie without
brown sauce, well, it just isnt worth eating. There, Ive
got off the fence about it. Theres no point in being wishy washy
or trying to please everybody, is there? If you want a perfect bacon
buttie then for goodness sake, do it right and have it with brown sauce.
© Marc Millon 2001