Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade

I’ve got this young Manager, Taylor Beargeon, at the cafe. Turns out he and his mom are both followers here at UrbanMonique. Taylor has made a bunch of stuff we’ve posted, and we appreciate that more than we can say.

Skillet's Bacon Fennel Jam
Skillet’s Bacon Fennel Jam
The other day, Taylor brought in a jar of fennel, black pepper, and bacon spread from Skillet, the incredibly talented consortium of restaurants, catering, street food, and much more. Lead by Jon Severson, and packed full of an amazingly eclectic and talented mix of fellow Chefs, this Seattle mainstay is a happening thing. 

I tasted this stuff, and it was fabulous, indeed. Then the thing that always happens with me happened – I thought, ‘how would I do this?’ I trust that the folks at Skillet won’t begrudge that leap in the least – Sure, they’d love us to buy their stuff, but knowing all they do and how they do it, I believe that they’d be thrilled if what they did inspired a few home cooks.

I looked at the ingredients of their wonderful spread, and immediately saw some things that I’d change. That’s not a rip off, by the way, or a put down. It is, rather, the way things go in creative endeavors. The folks at Skillet didn’t invent the concept of bacon jams, this was just their swing at it. Tasting it, and wanting to do your own version is complimentary, not parasitic.

This is why I encourage y’all constantly to take your own swing at what we do here – It’s also why I regularly use guitar licks lifted from dozens of players who came before me – what it becomes is my own amalgamated style. And that’s also why I’m thrilled when somebody else cops something of mine.

Anyway, back to that Skillet Jam. Theirs contains bacon, onion, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, lemon juice, black pepper, whole and ground fennel seed, granulated garlic, caramel color, and xanthan gum, (a pretty benign stabilizer). What I tasted was, appropriately, bacon first, then fennel, then sweet. Again, that stuff was really tasty, but it got me thinking about what I’d want to taste in such a thing, and so here we are. As such, let’s just take a little spin through the roughly six days between what Taylor started by sharing that taste, and what I came up with for y’all to try.

The origins of bacon jam are somewhat murky. Skillet’s received a lot of press as an original condiment, and their version certainly is that. Yet the real roots go back quite a bit farther than 2011 Seattle street food. Mincemeat recipes, (an amalgam of beef or mutton mixed with suet, fruit, nuts, liquor, vinegar, and citrus), are found as early as the 1400s in England. Mincemeat might be served as a main dish, (in a pie), or as a side for meat or poultry.

Chutney, an Indian condiment made from fruit and/or veggies, sugar or vinegar, and spices, hails back to several hundred years B.C.E.. 

Marmalade, fruit preserved in sugar and originally made with quince, harkens back to the ancient Greeks.

Pissaladière, the signature southern French pizza, is topped with what can easily be called an onion marmalade. 

And in Austria, a traditional dish, called verhackert, is a spread of minced bacon, garlic, and salt.

All of these things were made in order to preserve fruit, veggies, and meat for longer than their natural period of ripe and ready. Vinegar, salt, and sugar have all been used for just that purpose for thousands of years. Bacon jam, or marmalade, or chutney, are natural offshoots of these roots. As such, the sky is the limit for what you can and should try in your own kitchen.

Accordingly, I started thinking about what I had available and what I’d like to taste in such a thing. My first consideration was texture. That Skillet spread was just that – A processed blend of all that good stuff that you can scoop out with a knife and spread onto a sandwich or burger. What I wanted was something a bit more rustic, more of a marmalade feel.

Then came the taste palate I was after. What I wanted was big shots of savory and smoke, with sweet and heat as after notes. By that I mean literally, I wanted the savory and smoke to hit you front and center when you first taste the stuff, and the lingering notes to be sweet heat.

I had both fresh fennel and some super sweet little tomatoes in the garden, so those were definitely in. Sweet onion and shallot contribute savory, sweet, and heat notes, and would act as the anchor of the whole mix. Because fennel root is fairly delicate in and of itself, it wouldn’t stand up to the long, low and slow cooking a dish like this requires.

For the smoke, the bacon absolutely had to be the keynote. I used Hemplers, a stellar local bacon smoked in applewood. To really highlight the smokiness, I opted for Bourbon, (which also adds subtle sweetness), and a local Thai chile grown by a friend of my Sister that I’d smoked and ground this summer – That also brings the primary heat note to the mix. The final smoke note came from home roasted dark coffee. Touches of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper round out the blend. Here’s how I did it.

NOTE: You may sub 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika and any hot chile flake if you don’t have a smoked chile as I did.

UrbanMonique’s Bacon, Fennel, Onion Marmalade

1/2 Pound Applewood Smoked Bacon
1 fresh Fennel Root, (About 1 1/2 Cups)
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Sweet Onion
1/2 Cup Shallot
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 Cup brewed Coffee
1/2 Cup Bourbon
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup
1/2 teaspoon Chile flake or powder
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

As with any dish that calls for a bunch of ingredients, you’ll want to do all your prep, and have your mise en place set out neatly and close at hand before you start cooking.

Always get your mis en place!
Always get your mis en place!
Rinse, peel and and dice the fennel root, onion, and shallot, (about 1/4″ dice).

Rinse, stem, and quarter cherry tomatoes.

Stem, peel and mince the garlic.

Cut bacon into a roughly 1/4″ dice.

Heat a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.

Add the chopped bacon and sauté until it browns and starts to turn crispy, about 3-5 minutes.

Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to clean paper toweling.

Toss the onion, shallot, and fennel into the hot bacon grease and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer the veggies from the pan to clean paper toweling, with a slotted spoon.

Deglaze the pan with the bourbon, taking care to scrape loose all the little cooked bits from the bottom.

When the raw booze smell dissipates, return the bacon and salted veggies to the pan, add the tomatoes and the garlic, and stir to incorporate.

Add the coffee, vinegar, and maple syrup; stir gently to incorporate.

Season with chile powder, salt, and pepper and stir to incorporate.

Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade Cooking down - Low and slow is the key.
Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade Cooking down – Low and slow is the key.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has all been absorbed and the blend has a nice, marmalade like consistency. A little loose is fine – It will tighten up as it cools.

Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade Cooking down
Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade Cooking down

Transfer marmalade to a glass bowl to cool.

Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade
Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade

So, what’s it good on? Silly question! Damn near anything! Burgers, dogs, sandwiches, omelettes, chicken, pork – There’s a reason bacon is such a ubiquitous kitchen cheat.

Refrigerated in a clean, airtight container, the jam will last for 5-7 days.

Oh and hey – Thanks Tay Tay!

4 thoughts on “Bacon, Fennel, and Onion Marmalade”

  1. I came across yer blog just today, & I can see it’s gonna be a loooooong night of reading ‘cuz we are brothers-in-arms as far as philosophy & approach are concerned — but I wanted to point out a couple of … er …. “grammatical” … uhhh … “oversights” we’ll call ’em. First, in this post about Bacon Jam, you say something like “Now, as for the taste pallet I was aiming for” and I’m almost 100% certain that you meant “palate” (as in one’s overall experience of the “taste” of something) not “pallet” (as in a wooden piece used to hold large amounts of dry goods that can be picked up & moved with a forklift).

    And then you mention “mis en place” which is supposed to be “mise en place” — it’s even an embedded hyperlink to the Wikipedia page titled … “mise en place” … And you used “mis…” again under the photograph, which should also be “mise …”

    Only saying this cuz all yer other stuff is on point — there are umlauts and accents graves & accents aigu & all yer German is spelled correctly… so it seems like something you might actually care about! Personally, I am a stickler for getting these things right; ask my wife — she claims I’m the only person in the history of the world who has left a restaurant because the menu was overburdened with despicable grammatical mistakes. The way I see it, if you can’t be bothered to SPELL something correctly, then why would you put in the time to COOK it correctly?!?

    In any case, the blog is GREAT! Keep it up! You have one more “faithful reader” as of today.

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