Unlike a lot of non-veg*ns, reluctant veg*ns, new veg*ns, veteran veg*ns, former veg*ns, reluctant kosher diet subscribers and people of all walks of life, I have never been all that enamoured with bacon.
When people ask me what was the hardest thing to give up, it varies — I’ve never really missed cheese all that much. Sometimes I miss a good, fluffy scrambled egg (until I remember that tofu scramble exists). Sometimes it’s the drip-drip-drippiness of an egg over easy (memo to self: order some damn Vegg already to see what the fuss is all about). Mostly, I answer something I’m not proud of: McDonalds. Yes, the most notorious enemy of vegans and non-vegan healthy food advocates alike is the vice that threatens (but never succeeds) to derail my act of dietary defiance. All it takes is one billboard and a picture of a quarter pounder (which will never look that good prepared in a restaurant) to shift my mindset to that of a meat-eater.
As a result, in something of a coping mechanism, I’ve perfected at-home veganized Quarter Pounders and Big Mac Sauce (not to mention those perfect shoestring potatoes) like nobody’s business.
But we’re supposed to be talking about bacon.
Bacon seems to be that one ubiquitous food that holds everyone back from taking the leap to a meatless life. I guess I get it — it’s the perfect balance of salty, fatty, savoury, crispy and just a little sweet. And I certainly ate my fair share from childhood up until adolescence. Sundays after my Mom got back from church our brunch would consist of a greasy tray of bacon, eggs fried in said grease (always over-easy, we were an over-easy household. None of that scrambled crap), and toast always perfectly fluffy on the inside but golden crispy on the outside. Raspberry (never strawberry) jam and Kraft whipped peanut butter for Mom, Map-o-Spread for Dad and I. OJ. Coffee.
Believe it or not, I’ve still been able to share many a brunch with my fam-jam since going vegan. I don’t think I could ever get them to try some of my concoctions. I might have some luck with my Dad, but definitely not Mom.
I could have lived without a bacon substitute. But I was determined to prove to the naysayers that you can veganize anything, and it can be delicious. My first foray into vegan bacon was, like many, store-bought, pre-made tempeh bacon.
I said it then, I’ll say it now: it tastes like a belt.
I’ve softened on tempeh, but I find its overly grainy texture does not lend itself to moistness, chewiness or a taste you can savour and let develop in your mouth.
Dissatisfied, I took to the Internet. The most frequent suggestion was shiitake bacon.
I’d never been a big fan of mushrooms growing up. I don’t think their tastes or textures are the most kid-friendly. It wasn’t until I tasted a portobello smothered in maple syrup, pecans and brie (me!) at my cousin’s graduation in 2009 — and I didn’t even know it was a mushroom — that I came around to the things.
Shiitakes were still a new one to me at the time. But I was eager to embark on this new adventure, so I rushed out and bought a pack.
Like many who are frigid or reluctant in love, perhaps I was simply waiting for “the one” to come along with the whole bacon thing. The first time I popped one of those chewy, crispy, savoury, slightly sweet creations into my mouth, I was hooked.
Of course, I have had a few missteps — it’s easy to overcook the little ones (bigger slices = better) and if you use too much oil (like I did this morning) they can be just a little too slippery. But boy, these things are still just the cat’s pyjamas no matter how badly you screw them up.
I’ve also used coconut bacon in a pinch, but I’m not a huge fan of coconut in the context of anything but coconut. I like the taste, but I don’t like coconuts sneaking their way into my coffee’s milk, my peanut butter or especially beautiful, savoury bacon.
Here’s what I’ve learned is the formula for near-perfect shiitake bacon, which I made this morning:
- 1/4 cup EVOO
- 1 heaping tablespoon (yes, a TABLESPOON) smoke paprika
- a teaspoon of low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
- sea salt and pepper
- a dash of maple syrup
- a sprinkle of chipotle pepper
Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes (you may have to remove some of the smaller ones earlier on or they will crisp down to nothing).
There are two things you can tell from the above: 1) I like my bacon sweet and smoky, 2) I don’t care for measurements. I mean, c’mon. We’re not making a cake or meth anything. It’s bacon.
Sweet, smoky, wonderful bacon.
This morning’s batch made for a pretty tasty vegie sandwich (tomatoes, cucumbers, mayola vegan mayo) accompanied by a refreshing strawberry basil water. And oh, it’s all about the right bread. I scrimp and save on a lot of things, but bread is an investment.
Hopefully in the next few days I’ll be posting some photos from yesterday’s photoshoot in Liberty Village for my friend Jenna’s photography assignment featuring my good friend/climbing partner Alex. Here’s a preview — an outtake from when I had found the perfect pose and then decided to blow some hair out of my face.