I’ve always wondered what made Canadian bacon Canadian. Is it that Canadians don’t know how to make real bacon? Does it have something to do with Virginia and hams? was it originally a marketing ploy by McDonalds? How many degrees away is this from Kevin Bacon?
You don’t know either? Let us then take a culinary detour of sorts to discover the real roots of this bacon.
Canadian, aka back bacon or Irish bacon isn’t Canadian at all. Not really. It’s more of a Canadian-English-American hybrid super bacon.
Canadian bacon comes from the lean pork loin, which is located in the middle of the back. It is then brined and smoked.
According to Kitchen Project, this type of savory pork was most likely dubbed “Canadian” by marketers in the United Kingdom who took to importing pork from Canada to deal with a shortage in the mid 1800s.
This imported bacon was prepared Canadian-style (unsmoked and brined) and rolled in ground yellow split peas (or some other form of fine yellow meal) to aid with preservation. In Canada, this type of cured bacon is still common in parts and is called Peameal bacon.
When the English got their porcine packages, they added smoke and didn’t bother to change the name. Emigrating bacon lovers brought the new concoction to the States and Canadian bacon as we know it was born. Isn’t globalization great?
This slab o’ pork wasn’t nearly as hard to find as the pork belly. My friendly neighborhood butcher at Laurenzo’s Italian Market had it on hand and was more than happy to hand me the tastiest looking roughly 3 lb. pork loin in the case.
Since this preparation is all about the smoke, I broke down and purchased a stovetop smoker (Camerons large from Amazon). The smoker is compact, looks easy-to-use and presents as a neat silver self-contained package.
The brine for this preparation was simple; just tons of water, Kosher salt, pink salt, table sugar, garlic, thyme and sage.
I popped the loin in, waited 2 days, took it out, wiped it off and slapped it on a tray to air cure in the fridge for a few days.
And then my smoker finally came in from Amazon, and we were off!
I smoked my pork centered on one burner over medium with Alder chips for a couple of hours. It smoked the house out a bit, but not unbearably so (keep in mind that smoke is sticky and if you don’t want your kitchen and/or house to smell like someone’s been cooking bacon for a week, make sure to clean anywhere the smoke could have gotten thoroughly).
The final product was meh. Not terrible, not great. The outer portion on the outside of the fat cap looks and tastes like Canadian Bacon, but the inside looks and tastes like a pork roast. A deeply smoky pork roast at that. I think where I went wrong was the nice thick pork loin. Had I used one of the thinner loins, I think it would have turned out just right. Live and learn.
I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of a new vehicle in which to premiere the Canadian Bacon, but to no avail. I tossed a handful in with some greens and a fried egg, and it was not my favorite. Entirely edible, but I liked the dish sans smoke better.
I’m thinking maybe a soup. Maybe even the split pea soup my DH has been begging for for months will do this “bacon” justice.
A Much Better Use of Canadian Bacon–Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Split Pea Soup with Country Ham from one of my favorite food blogs, Orangette
6 oz. fresh Canadian Bacon, cubed
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 c. dried split peas
8 c. water
Cap full of apple cider vinegar
Salt & white pepper to taste
Add1 Tbsp. olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. After the oil heats up, add the bacon and cook, stirring, until starting to brown.
Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring to avoid burning, until the vegetables are tender but not browned (roughly 10 minutes).
Add the split peas and water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cook 90 minutes to 2 hours or until the peas have broken down.
Taste, add the vinegar if the taste needs punch; salt & pepper to taste.
I covered the pot while cooking and the resulting soup was more watery than I like. So, I grabbed my slotted spoon and got to work separating the bacon from the vegetables and excess liquid.
If you want a more refined-looking soup at this point, let the soup cool a bit and blend the vegetables and desired amount of liquid until smooth, add back to the pot along with the reserved bacon and heat through to serve.
Serve with a nice swirl of olive oil to finish and thick slabs of crusty bread for sopping.
Serves 1 hungry deprived husband for dinner with enough left over for you too, if you don’t get too close.