On our butcher’s block this month we’ve got a cut that might be unfamiliar to you. It’s a cut that might just make you think we’ve made a mistake. Because this month we’re looking at lamb bacon. Bacon comes from a pig, we hear you cry. But does it? If we’re getting all nerdy, we could point out that the word ‘bacon’ comes from the early German ‘bakkon’ or Old Dutch ‘baken’, meaning ‘back meat’. While we might be more used to eating pork bacon, there’s nothing in the rule book to say it can’t be made from lamb. And once you give it a try, we think you’ll agree our lamb bacon certainly gives pork a run for its money.
Taste and Texture
When it comes to enjoying lamb bacon, we think it’s best to set aside everything you know about the taste of pork bacon. They really are two very different beasts. In fact, even within pork bacon there’s a vast array of types and cuts, so comparison is pointless. Lamb bacon is rich, hearty and distinctively flavoured. It responds best to a light touch when cooking to keep it tender and juicy, but you can also crisp it up as you might streaky bacon and use it as a crumbled seasoning. One of the criticisms often levelled at lamb is that it’s fatty, or that the fat is too strongly flavoured. This plays wholly to lamb bacon’s advantage. The distinct layers of fat melt away on cooking, leaving succulent cured meat that has a clear lamby flavour.
Where it’s cut from
Lamb bacon comes from the breast of the lamb carcass. This roughly equates to the belly on a pig, so it makes what we’d recognise as streaky bacon. The breast is a lamb cut that’s fallen out of favour – it’s kind of an awkward shape and takes a little bit of attention to cook as a joint, so has been left behind by the convenience of leg and shoulder. That means breast most often gets turned into mince, which we thought was a bit of a waste so decided to make it into bacon instead. The layers of fat and meat that characterise lamb breast make it perfect for curing, thinly slicing and serving up as part of a substantial cooked breakfast.
As with all of our cured products, we follow a simple, old-fashioned process in making our lamb bacon. The meat is slowly cured in a mix of sea salt, brown sugar, juniper, bay leaf and black pepper. No chemicals, nitrates or additives are involved. The action of the salt draws moisture from the meat, tenderising it and intensifying the flavour. This is then further enhanced by the taste of the herbs. In the old days, curing was used as a means of preservation. These days it’s a way of making meat even tastier and more characterful.
How to cook it
Cooking lamb bacon isn’t a complicated affair. Treat it exactly as you could pork bacon. It’s equally good fried or grilled, or you can pop it in the oven. Whichever method you choose, we recommend going for quick and hot to make sure you get the lovely flavour of seared and caramelised fat combined with tender, succulent meat.
Give it a try
The fresh and grassy flavour of lamb is given even greater depth by the curing process that makes it lamb bacon. This means it’s ideal when used as a highlight flavour in dishes like salads and risottos. It works beautifully with other distinctive ingredients like peppery rocky, earthy beetroot or pungent goats cheese. Make a fry-up-with-a-twist by serving beef sausages, lamb bacon and pork kidneys. That’ll set you up for the day.