Ask the Experts with...

Jasper Aykroyd

- Bacon Wizard

Can you tell us a little about how you got involved with your current role?

I kind of fell into it: I was desperate to engage with a traditional craft but things like blacksmithing weren’t available to me when I was young and jobless.

After ending up helping in kitchens I soon realised what’s around us every day if we look deep enough. So I trained under Darina and Rachael Allen and a passion was ignited.

It didn’t take long before curing and charcuterie became my focus even among other delicatessen foods. However I am also a closet academic!

So after 15 years and some great adventures and achievements as a chef I could no longer ignore my obsession with learning and teaching. So now, with the curing of meats as a focus and direction, I spend all my time getting into the very atoms of how it works and all surrounding issues ranging from ethics and agriculture right down to chefs training, recipe development, factory design etc. And from there, people often come to me for help with something else entirely or just a bit of direction. It’s never dull!

A passion for great quality ingredients is obvious, can you tell us a little about your views on what makes a great tasting dish - particularly with bacon?

  • It’s never wrong to go back to first principles. Hence, great ingredients is a must and for me that often means rare breeds with a special flavour and an un-fashionable amount of fat which the cook should learn to handle so that it remains an attractive, healthy dish.
  • Never throw flavour or nutrition away. It is deeply precious and hard-won. Find a way to use it, and let that dictate what you do next. Be thinking of that, well in advance
  • It also means simplicity is often the order of the day, even as we try to balance long, complex flavours with fresh, upbeat and lighter notes. It’s not only about letting the ingredients do the talking, it’s also about letting them lead you by the hand as the cook and suggesting the techniques you might use. Technique or cleverness is never a good substitute for wisdom. So establish firm connections between ingredients in your own mind before you try and combine them and then go for it! Know your onions!
  • What reaction do you get from people when you tell them what you do for a living?

    I get a range of reactions from ”That’s awesome!” to a rather bemused, blank stare.

    It depends how much people know or think about food. I kinda enjoy that for some people the idea that I can make a career purely out of consulting around the subject of cured meats raises a new awareness that there is more to it than opening a packet. I’ve never had a negative reaction even from people who for one reason or another don’t eat meat.

    Where can we find the best bacon in the UK?

    You’ll struggle to find better than Cook and Carve in Shrewsbury Market. I count their bacon as more akin to that of the great but retired Maynard Davies than the business that now carries his name. But if you don’t live locally, you’ll struggle to get it. For anywhere else in The UK, www.cureandsimple.com

    is just superb.

    A recent survey said the nation’s favourite Bacon Sandwich was with white bread and brown sauce, how do you take yours? (and is the survey right…?)

    But take 2 slices of thick cut shortback, cooked quickly so they stay juicy and nestled with each other yin-yang fashion, and then 2 slices of a sweet smoked streaky cooked very crispy running the other direction.

    I like to dip one side of white, partial sourdough bread in the rendered bacon fat and toast it on that side only till it will shatter as you bite-in, but is pillow-soft on the other side.

    This all gives the sarnie an amazing “crunch-squish, crunch-squish” bursting of flavours, textures and sound when you bite –in. See what you’ve done? I want one right now!

    Brown sauce? Sure! I’ll take it over red any day and often do. But really good bacon has plenty of flavour and doesn’t need the help.

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