Bacon is pork that has been cured one of two ways: dry or wet. It can be bought as both rashers and larger cuts. A dry-cure (in which the meat is rubbed with salt and flavourings) is the superior method of curing. A wet cure involves steeping the meat in a brine of salt and water. It's common for manufacturers to inject the brine into the meat too, in order to increase the weight and volume; bacon that's been cured in this way will shrink and release a cloudy, yellow liquid when it's cooked, and won't be as crisp as dry cured.
Bacon is sold as both smoked or unsmoked - the latter is termed 'green', and is paler and milder than the smoked variety. There are three types of rasher: back (from the loin, the leanest and most expensive), streaky (from the belly, it's the fattiest and often tastiest cut) and middle (back and streaky bacon in one cut). Bacon joints include collar (from the shoulder), hock (from the front leg of the pig) and gammon (from the hind leg). Never eat raw bacon.
All year round.
Choose the best
Fresh bacon should look pink and damp - avoid anything that's discoloured or dry. The fat should be white or creamy coloured, not yellow or greasy, and the rind should be thin and elastic. Avoid bacon that is wet, slimy or smells unpleasant.
As with other meat, you might want to read more about organic and free range availability, and what these terms mean, before buying your meat. Read more about animal welfare at the Soil Association and about food labelling at the Food Standards Agency.
Joints of bacon can be boiled and/or roasted. To boil, allow 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes. To roast, allow 30 minutes per 500g plus 30 minutes. Rest them for 15-20 minutes before serving. Rashers should be grilled or fried for 2-3 minutes per side (longer for a crispier result).
Keep all bacon in the fridge, away from any food that's eaten raw. Never exceed the consume-by date printed on the package. Open the original pack only when you're going to use it, and then keep the bacon wrapped in clingfilm or in a sealed plastic container.
Good quality loose bacon should be wrapped in greaseproof paper; unsmoked will keep for 7 days, smoked for 10. Bacon joints will keep for 3 days. Only vacuum packed bacon freezes well, for up to 2 months.
Fry back bacon rashers for a classic English breakfast. Use fried streaky rashers for a BLT sarnie, to wrap around lean meat or fish (try turkey, pork, chicken and monkfish) before roasting or crumble into a creamy pasta sauce to make spaghetti carbonara. Add shredded or diced hock to split pea soup or casseroles; fry gammon steaks and serve with fried eggs; boil a bacon joint and serve with boiled potatoes, broad beans and parsley sauce.
Try pancetta or ham.