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The real deal: Authentic Canadian bacon isn't what most Americans think it is

Sunday, June 02, 2002

By Marlene Parrish

What you have been calling Canadian bacon isn't REAL Canadian bacon. American "Canadian bacon" is usually round, smoked, processed, pre-sliced and ready to eat after a brief warm-up in a saute pan.

No wonder Americans are confused when it comes to Canadian bacon: The authentic version, Canadian peameal bacon, no longer uses peameal. (Franka Bruns, Post-Gazette/Food styling by Marlene Parrish)

But Canadian Canadian bacon is entirely different. It's nothing like the stripy strips of our American breakfast bacon. Real Canadian bacon is a roast -- a closely trimmed, pickle-brined piece of muscle that comes from the hog's back.

It looks like the eye of a pork chop -- very lean with no marbling. It has only a 1/8-inch-thick layer of fat on one side. And it is rolled in golden cornmeal and sold uncooked.

Hang in there, because other semantic tricks lie ahead.

Our neighbors to the north call it by a different name, too. Canadian bacon sold in Canada is known as peameal bacon. The peameal comes from the dried yellow peas that originally were ground into meal and packed around the meat to preserve it. When cornmeal became more plentiful and practical, processors switched over. But the peameal name stuck.

The biggest difference between American Canadian bacon and Canadian Canadian bacon is a matter of smoking. Both bacons are cured, but the American kind also is smoked, which gives it a flavor closer to what we normally call ham.

The unsmoked Canadian meat has a light, salty flavor but without the smokiness, so it ends up tasting more like fresh ham.

Luckily for us, a nostalgic Canadian in the United States is making it possible for us to enjoy the real thing. Ken Haviland is the owner of the REAL Canadian Bacon Co., and he lives in Troy, Mich., where in his day job he is an automotive design engineer. The uppercase letters of his company logo are an attempt to emphasize the differences between the American and Canadian products.

Haviland was born on a farm in Ontario and can't begin to count the breakfasts at which his family ate slices of peameal-coated back bacon with eggs, pancakes and maple syrup.

While trolling the supermarket aisles not long ago, he picked up a package of processed meat labeled "Canadian-style Bacon." He recalls thinking, this stuff is an impostor.

"I started asking around if anybody had ever tasted real Canadian peameal bacon," Haviland said during a telephone interview. "All I got were blank stares. I knew I had to introduce it to the States."

He researched the possibility of importing peameal bacon but was discouraged with the red tape involved. Then it occurred to him that commerce could be accomplished through Internet sales.

Now he sells "Canadian peameal back bacon" from a Web site. The company is based in Michigan, the product is made in Canada and is imported to the United States, where it is inspected by the USDA, which classifies it as uncooked Canadian bacon.

"I buy from the largest provider of peameal bacon in Canada," Haviland says. "We ship from orders only and have no retail stores."

According to Haviland, confusion surrounding the meat began around the turn of the 19th century. It seems England had a pork shortage and began importing pork "side bacon" from Canada. The Brits then smoked the product.

When Americans tasted the smoked version, they must have gotten the idea that all bacon from Canada was smoked. So when United States processors began to make the product, they went ahead and smoked it.

Peameal bacon roasts come oven-ready in 2 1/2- and 5-pound sizes. To roast, place on a rack in a roasting pan and cook for about 20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees for the small size and about 15 minutes per pound for the larger roast.

Because of the brining, the results will be a juicy, succulent roast with a sweet, nutty and slightly salty flavor. The product also is sold in slices that need just a quick sizzle in a saute pan.

Using Canadian peameal bacon in recipes is a no-brainer. Serve it with any side dishes that you like with ham. Substitute it for either ham or bacon in sandwiches, omelets or pastas. Or try one of these specialties.

Make Eggs Benedict. Toast English muffins and place one slice of peameal bacon on each muffin half. Top with a poached egg and drown with Hollandaise sauce.

Try a Canadian baconburger. Pile three slices of peameal bacon on half a toasted kaiser roll. Top with red onion, honey mustard, lettuce and tomato.

Glaze and roast. Score the top of a 5-pound roast in diamonds, as you would a ham. Set on a rack in a greased shallow pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice, and stud the top symmetrically with cloves. Make a paste of 3 tablespoons pineapple jam, 1 teaspoon dry mustard and 2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs or flour. Spread this over the top of the roast. Pour about 1/2 cup fruit juice into the pan. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours (155-degree internal temperature). Baste with pan liquid often. Add a few tablespoons boiling water during the cooking if the pan seems dry.

But if you live anywhere in the Eastern United States and make an occasional weekend getaway to Canada, there's a simple way to buy Canadian peameal bacon roasts. Go to a grocery store.

When my husband and I to drive to Toronto, we toss a styrene foam container into the trunk. On the way home, we make a last stop the St. Lawrence Market and buy a half dozen peameal bacon roasts. They make great gifts for friends, as well as filling our cache.

But, sorry, unlike the value of the dollar in our neighboring country, Canada doesn't offer one-third off the calories, eh?

Food writer Marlene Parrish lives on Mount Washington.

Order on the Internet from www.realcanadianbacon.com for $7 to $9 a pound, depending on the order. To order by phone: 1-866-BACON-01 (1-866-222-6601).

Maple-Glazed Peameal Back Bacon Roast

2 1/2-pound Canadian bacon roast
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut roast in half lengthwise. Place each thick slice on hot lightly greased grill 4 to 5 inches over low moderate coals. Grill, turning with tongs, about 10 to 15 minutes on each side. Timing depends on the heat of the coals.

Combine maple syrup, lemon juice and cinnamon. Brush roast with the maple syrup mixture often until surface is brown and crisp. Cut each thick slice in diagonal slices across the grain to serve.

Makes about 4 servings.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

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