Bacon is like problematic porn that makes you too ashamed to leave your iPad out and about for people to grab; when it’s good it’s good, and when it’s underwhelming it’s offensive. A bacon and maple doughnut from Portland’s famed Voodoo Doughnut was enough to get me to give up eating meat for a while. Whatever your politics are on eating animals, I think we can all agree that slaughter shouldn’t be a novelty. It’s wasteful, it alienates us from the processes from which we cultivate our food, and just looks really bad on a resume to enter the Federation of Planets. We are not the people Gene Roddenberry believed we could be.
That said: until we invent a process in which we can painlessly liposuction pigs to create bacon fat, buying bacon will be my Prime Directive when making sure I get the most out of every grocery. I prefer bacon grease to most cooking oils, and in some cases, even butter. I even prefer it to the bacon itself. When I order bacon in restaurants, I try to get it as fatty and chewy as possible. I would bring my own mason jar to brunch spots if I thought I could get some bacon grease to go, but I’m saving my “Do not let this person in” virginity for just the right restaurant.
Recently, my boyfriend A offered to buy me some groceries to help me coast out the next couple of weeks while I find permanent work. I got about 3 pounds of bacon in total, in addition to milk and some greens. This is what I ended up making that first night, with my bag of affirmation, compassion and novelty Batman cereal.
This is like if you did a rustic country cover of aglio e olio—the sauce, not the Beastie Boys album. Yeah, you take your still-in-shrink-wrap Sleep albums and zest for complaining about cigarette taxes out of the record store if you don’t want me to embarrass you in front of your date, who you might still have a chance with if she doesn’t see you let a whole scoop of pistachio gelato melt on your hand whilst you try to explain why Trout Mask Replica is a better album than Sgt. Pepper.
Go write some more poetry about iPhones, asshole. I’m frying bacon.
First you fry the six pieces of bacon. Fry them all the way, until all of the fat has melted into the pan. This is “irregular cut” bacon, which is often cheaper than traditional bacon and has more fat per strip. Boil some water for the spaghetti.
Wait ’til it’s a shriveled husk of its former self, and lay out on paper towels to dry off any lingering grease. Pour some of the grease into a jar (I use a large mason jar) to save for later. You want just enough grease that the garlic isn’t totally submerged.
Mince three cloves of garlic and fry it up. Throw the spaghetti in the pot, if you haven’t already. You’re gonna want to cook it al-dente.
You want the garlic to get just a step above before golden brown, like a shy amber learning it’s photogenic angles. This is arguably the hardest part of stir-fries: the timing of multiple ingredients that cook at different speeds. If the garlic’s already golden brown before you throw in everything, it’ll start to go black while you’re mixing everything in, and then you’ll have slightly wilted spinach, warmed over bacon, and ashy chunks of cremated promise.
Chop your dried out bacon. The more brittle, the better. This is more of an instruction to myself. Do what feels right. Strain your pasta. Really, really strain it.
Toss the pasta in the oil to fry. Stir often to keep it from sticking to the pan. Are you get a lot of pops and bangs? That’s water. You didn’t strain the pasta enough. Look out below!
The consistency you’re going is something like lo mein—stiff but noodley.
Once the noodles start to harden and get a little color, throw in the spinach and bacon. The spinach will start to will very quickly, as long as you keep stirring. So much of the difference between amazing and tragic stir-fry takeout is the attention paid to making sure everything gets hot but not burned, sticky but not stuck.
Throw in a bit of salt and red pepper flake, if you got any.
By now the garlic and oil have taken on each other’s flavors, like a very progressive couple trying to make a misguided point. The dish should be saturated (but not swimming) in a slick, smokey, and garlic-y sauce, hardy and subtle in equal measure.
What you’re left with is a Voltron of textures: slippery, slimy, crunchy, fatty, soggy, chewy. It’s like if you had a lock-in at your local community center until your spaghetti and your spinach salad got along and came back to find they had joined their genes to breed a majestic god-beast that lets an innocent eye linger on you for about a second before choking you with irresistible tendrils, assimilating you into a simpler, more animalistic form of life. There’s no disease, no fear, only the cacophony of slurps, crunches, and that squeak that some wilted greens do when you chew them. The sort of primal symphony that either immediately alienates or arouses those around you sensitive to sound.
I personally don’t get bothered by the sounds people make when they eat. This doesn’t make me a better person; I feel like if people are constantly under the microscope for things they aren’t conscious of doing, then it makes it harder for them to hear you’re coming from a place of love when you try to approach them about a more pressing personal habit (like casually oppressive remarks). Just put on a movie or listen to a podcast. Who cares if you look vapid. Why is the abundance of distracting media suddenly non-available to you? Because you want to erase this thing about someone that annoys you and you can’t? And rather than solve it with tools or work at accepting its presence, you have to annihilate it?
Pass the parmesan and contemplate why you’re bombing this “accepting your smallness in an unthinkably vast universe” thing so hard.
I dated a woman who once told me “I don’t know how much of it is your depression and how much of it is just living under capitalism.” I think of this often, because I am poor often. Capitalism is ever pervasive, like an effervescent mist maintaining a steady state of infection so that some of us never feel safe, secure, or loved. No one should want to die because of money, but it happens (especially to me)—buying someone groceries, even just $20 for greens and carbs and bacon, can be a radical act of mutual survival. It’s like hitting capitalism with a chair when the ref isn’t looking. If you’re ever in a place to do it for someone, you should, even if they don’t take everything they buy and fry it in bacon fat.
Thank you, A, for throwing me this lifesaver. I hope to get back on my feet soon.