Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie wowed the judges early in season 6 with this recipe for bacon jam. He braises bacon with onion, brown sugar, chicken broth, and Espelette pepper, then blends it into a sweet-savory jam. Toss it with split fresh okra pods that are charred in a cast-iron skillet to remove some of their characteristic slime. Spread the leftover bacon jam on toast or biscuits with eggs, or layer it into a tasty meatloaf or egg salad sandwich.
What to buy:Piment d’Espelette is France’s only native pepper, and it is so highly revered that it is protected by AOC status. It has a nice heat and is worth seeking out at a gourmet grocery or online. If you have trouble finding it, you can substitute hot paprika.
Game plan: The bacon jam can be cooled to room temperature and then refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Rewarm before using.
For the bacon jam:
8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
1/4 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
1/2 teaspoon ground piment d’Espelette
1/4 teaspoonkosher salt, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the okra:
12 ounces fresh okra
1/4 teaspoonkosher salt
For the bacon jam:
Place the bacon in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the bacon is starting to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has browned, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and stir to combine.
Add 1 cup of the broth and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add 1 more cup of the broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the remaining cup of broth, honey, Espelette, measured salt, and black pepper and stir to combine.
Transfer the mixture to a blender and reserve the pot. Blend until smooth, removing the small cap from the blender lid (the pour lid) and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam to escape and prevents the lid from popping off).
Return the mixture to the reserved pot, place over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter; set aside. (At this point, the bacon jam can be cooled to room temperature and then refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Rewarm before using.)
For the okra:
Trim the stems from the okra and cut each pod in half lengthwise. Place in a large bowl, add the salt, and toss to combine; set aside.
Heat a large, well-seasoned or enameled cast-iron skillet over high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Working in 2 to 3 batches so as not to crowd the pan, add the okra, cut-side down in a single layer, and sear undisturbed until charred on the bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the okra and cook until crisp-tender, about 30 seconds more. Remove to a medium bowl.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the okra in the bowl and 1/2 cup of the bacon jam to the pan (reserve the remaining bacon jam for another use), and stir to combine. Immediately transfer to a serving dish.