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Rashers are an Irish culinary staple that often perplexes those outside of Ireland and the UK. Commonly known as bacon in their native lands, rashers are a beloved breakfast component and much more. According to the Irish Food Board, Bord Bia, Irish pork production accounts for a significant portion of the country's agricultural output, with a notable emphasis on quality and sustainability.
Unlike the streaky pork belly bacon popular in the United States, Irish bacon is crafted from the leaner back cut of the pig, akin to what North Americans refer to as Canadian bacon. This type of bacon, which is both cured and sliced to a similar thickness as its Canadian counterpart, is traditionally cooked through but not crisped to the extent of American bacon. Whether you're enjoying a hearty Irish breakfast or simply savoring a slice, understanding the nuances of rashers can elevate your culinary experience.
Traditionally Irish bacon is made from the back meat of the pig, as opposed to the pork belly used in American bacon. This makes it quite similar to Canadian bacon. Both are cured and have about the same thickness in slices. Both are cooked until done but not crisped like American bacon.
Unlike its Canadian cousin, Irish bacon tends to have a layer of fat around the meat, which many feel enhances flavor. To further confuse matters, some companies now make versions that are similar in cut to American bacon and should be cooked until crispy. It is normally a great deal thicker in cut than American bacon, but is prepared in the same manner.
Irish bacon is also similar to pancetta — the Italian cured meat made from pork belly. In fact round versions can make an excellent substitute for pancetta in recipes. Either one can stand in for the other in recipes, though the Irish bacon will be sliced much thicker than pancetta. This is of little consequence in recipes that call for diced pancetta.
When one makes a traditional Irish breakfast of eggs, white pudding, blood pudding and bacon, Irish bacon of the round variety should be used. Alternately one can substitute Canadian bacon, or even slices of ham. The Irish and English tend to prefer this type of bacon as a breakfast meat to American bacon, although one may find American bacon offered in hotels or restaurants catering to American tourists.
Irish bacon is a great addition to sandwiches, spicing up a club sandwich or a monte christo. It’s also well adapted for use in omelets, frittatas, or in an Italian dish of pasta with peas. It is a little less fatty than American bacon, so it may be a better choice for maintaining heart health. However, no bacon is exactly fat free, and Irish bacon derives some of its flavoring from the marbled fat running through each slice.
FAQ on Irish Bacon
What is Irish bacon and how does it differ from American bacon?
Irish bacon, also known as back bacon, comes from the back of the pig and includes a portion of the loin, which makes it leaner than American bacon. It is similar to Canadian bacon but includes more fat around the meat. American bacon, on the other hand, is cut from the pork belly and is much fattier, with streaks of meat running parallel to the rind. Irish bacon is typically sold in round slices and has a ham-like texture, whereas American bacon is sold in thin strips and has a crispier texture when cooked.
How do you cook Irish bacon?
To cook Irish bacon, you can fry, grill, or broil it. Start by heating a pan over medium heat and add the bacon slices. Cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side until it reaches the desired level of doneness. Unlike American bacon, it does not need to be cooked until crisp and is often enjoyed with a slightly softer texture. It's important to turn the bacon only once to maintain its juiciness and flavor.
What are some traditional dishes that use Irish bacon?
Traditional Irish dishes that feature Irish bacon include the full Irish breakfast, which typically consists of Irish bacon, sausages, black and white pudding, eggs, tomatoes, and sometimes mushrooms and beans. Another popular dish is cabbage and bacon, where the bacon is boiled with cabbage and sometimes potatoes. Irish bacon is also used in a variety of soups, stews, and pies, adding a rich, savory flavor to these hearty meals.
Is Irish bacon healthier than American bacon?
Irish bacon can be considered healthier than American bacon due to its higher lean meat content and lower fat percentage. However, it is still a processed meat and should be consumed in moderation. According to dietary guidelines, processed meats should be limited in a balanced diet due to their association with certain health risks when consumed in large quantities. Opting for Irish bacon might be a better choice for those looking to reduce their intake of saturated fat.
Where can I buy Irish bacon?
Irish bacon can be purchased at specialty food stores, international markets, and some supermarkets that carry a variety of international or gourmet foods. It is also available online through various retailers. If you're unable to find it locally, you might consider looking for an Irish butcher or a store that specializes in British and Irish products, as they are more likely to carry authentic Irish bacon.