05 March, 2008

Kolozsvári szalonna - Hungarian Smoked Bacon

I picked up a delicious chunk of Hungarian-style smoked bacon at one of our local Eastern European supermarkets this weekend. Hungarian Brand Smoked Bacon (Kolozsvári szalonna) is made in the US by Bende Inc. of Vernon Hills, IL. The ingredients list includes salt, garlic powder, sodium lactate, sodium nitrate, and ascorbic acid. This results in a very firm product - not at all soft like many supermarket bacons - which can be eaten fried the way we Americans do, or sliced right from the package as a snack or light meal with brown bread.

When I unwrapped the bacon, I got a better look at it than I did in the market. It's a good bit fattier than I usually buy, but this is a small-batch product and there is always variation between batches. It smelled wonderfully of meat and garlic. I put a cast-iron skillet on the fire to heat while I sliced the bacon.

I enjoyed the first slice in the traditional Eastern European way: just the way it was, thinly sliced from the slab, accompanied by some dense and crusty black rye bread. The salt and garlic were in just the right proportion to the pork and a sprinkle of coarsely-ground black pepper enhanced the deliciousness. I can never get my wife and daughter to try any kind of bacon in this way, though, so the rest of the slab was destined for the frying pan.

I sliced the bacon a little less than a quarter-inch thick and fried it in the skillet over medium-low heat using a cast iron bacon on top to keep it from curling. I took the first few pieces out when the bacon was little more than wilted and just starting to turn brown on both sides. It was melty and wonderful, the garlic flavor made richer in the gentle heat. For the rest of the family, I left the slices in the pan a bit longer - not enough to cook them crisp all the way through, but enough to make them acceptable to people used to eating standard American streaky bacon. It came out golden brown and crispy on the outside, tender and just a bit chewy on the inside. The garlic flavor was very subtle, having escaped with the fat that was cooked out, but still noticeable and enjoyable. There was a goodly amount of fat left in the pan - you can see from the pictures that there wasn't all that much lean in the bacon - and I carefully poured it off into a tin I keep in the refrigerator for exactly that purpose.

Bende Hungarian Brand Smoked Bacon (Kolozsvári szalonna) Ratings:

Flavor: 8/10
Delicious balance of salt, smoke, and garlic. Truly top-notch.

Fat to Lean Ratio: 7/10
This batch was a little fattier than I normally like, but individual slabs vary. Next time I'll pay more attention to what's behind the cryovac before I head for the cash register.

Saltiness: 8/10
Some bacons parch your throat for hours. This one didn't.

Cooking Heat: Medium Low
Bacons that use a dryer cure, leaving them firmer than standard supermarket bacon, should be cooked on the low side of medium to keep them from burning.

Overall: 8/10
I'd buy this stuff again in a heartbeat. It tastes a lot like homemade.

Related Link: Bende, Inc. Website. If you don't have a local market carrying Bende products, you can order them online.


springer said...

I had this bacon e few times. It is truly a far cry from real Hungarian ready to eat. It is chewey and tough and usually too fat. It is like comparing Teli Brand salami with Pick Brand. Day and night. Being from the region, I still miss the real thing.
So today I made my own!
7 days dry cure, 2 hrs smoker dry, 5 hrs smoked on hickory, oak and apple.
155F inside finished. Now Kolozsvari can't hold a candle to this!

Elaine Bergstrom said...

That's because you do not eat this bacon by frying it. Please look at this link for the way to eat it...and then it is incredible!