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Key Ingredient: Red Bean Paste

Everything's better with bacon, right?

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Greg Biggers, executive chef at Cafe des Architectes, challenged Old Town Social chef Jared Van Camp to come up with a recipe using red bean paste for this installment of our weekly feature.

Greg Biggers chose red bean paste for Jared Van Camp because "all he does is meat," and Biggers wanted to force him to make something different. The sweetened azuki beans, also known as anko, are mostly used in Asian pastries and desserts. Van Camp, however, didn't cooperate: he used the bean paste in place of maple syrup to cure bacon. "I was pretty happy when I figured out that I could use it not only in a meat product, but a bacon product, instead of doing pastry," he said.

He'd heard of red bean paste, but hadn't tried it before. "It tastes to me like if your grandma made baked beans without any smoked pork product in it and added too much sugar."

Calculating how to make the bacon with azuki bean paste involved a series of equations in which Van Camp figured out how many grams of sodium and carbohydrates are in his usual bacon cure, which consists of salt, maple sugar, and maple syrup, then converted those figures to amounts for red miso—which he used in place of salt—and bean paste.

"We cured it for a week, like we normally do with our bacon, turned it over every couple days, and then after a week we rinsed it and smoked the hell out of it," Van Camp said. He hasn't experimented a lot with alternative sweeteners in bacon, though he uses brown sugar for pancetta and white sugar for guanciale, and has tried using honey for bacon. He discovered some differences between this and his usual recipe: "Even though there was the same salt and sugar content, interestingly the maple syrup/maple sugar/salt mixture leaches out a lot more liquid from the bellies. This didn't, so I was a little worried. But it's certainly got the salinity."

Van Camp could taste the difference, too. "I think the maple syrup's a little more forward in sweetness, a little more towards the front when you taste it. The miso/red bean paste thing comes on at the end, in the back." Ultimately, though he declared the ingredient "totally out of my comfort zone," he was happy with how the bacon turned out. "It's not overt, like you're eating a bean when you eat it, but it's different and it's pretty cool," he said.

He served the bacon with a soft-boiled egg, shiitakes braised in miso butter, brussels sprouts, and kimchi blended with more of the red bean paste, finishing it off with togarashi (a Japanese spice blend with dried chiles). "It's a little kitschy, the bacon and egg thing, but I do love bacon and a runny egg together," Van Camp said. "There's that umami thing going on with the mushrooms and the miso together, the brussels sprouts tie in to the kimchi; the kimchi we used because we absolutely love it. We tried to use a lot of ingredients more than once so that there's some semblance of harmony."

The finished product "works for me," though the azuki bean paste isn't obvious, Van Camp said. "It's just that residual sweetness in the bacon. It's kind of molasses-y to me. I've had bacon made with molasses, and this tastes sort of like that. I'd be pretty impressed if anyone said, 'Oh, you must have used red bean paste in this!'"

Who's Next:

Cary Taylor of the Southern (who also recently launched the Southern Mac & Cheese Truck, a food truck serving all mac 'n' cheese, all the time), cooking with fish eyeballs. Van Camp has never actually tried them, but "I've seen it used in soups, like a fish stew, where you have the heads in it and after it's been cooked you pop the eyeballs out, and it's a little reward."

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Miso-Red Bean Paste Bacon With Soft-Boiled Egg, Shiitakes, and Kimchi Puree

5-pound slab of fresh pork belly, skin removed

429 g red miso paste

196 g sweetened red bean paste

Mix the red miso and red bean paste together in a mixing bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over all sides of the pork belly. Place in a nonreactive, covered container in the refrigerator for six days, turning over every two days. Rinse the belly well and return to the refrigerator, uncovered, for one day. Prepare a smoker to smoke with applewood (or any other fruitwood or hardwood). Smoke the belly at 185 degrees for ten to 12 hours, or until very tender.

Kimchi Puree

2 cups kimchi

2 T sweetened red bean paste

Place the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Miso Butter Braised Shiitakes

5-6 large shiitake mushrooms (stems removed, cut into quarters)

4 ounces unsalted butter (cold, cut into cubes)

1 T red miso paste

Heat one tablespoon water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the butter, making sure the temperature is not too hot or too cold so the sauce stays emulsified. Whisk in red miso paste. Reserve in a warm place.

Brussels Sprouts

2 cups brussels sprouts

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In the meantime, remove the bottoms of the brussels sprouts and remove the leaves individually. Prepare an ice bath. Blanch the brussels sprouts in the boiling water. Shock in the ice bath and remove, drain and pat dry.

Soft-Boiled Egg

1 egg

Bring a pot of water to a roiling boil. Prepare an ice bath. Plunge the egg into the boiling water for exactly five minutes. Shock in the ice bath. After ten minutes, remove the egg and peel the shell.

Other Ingredients

1 T olive oil

1 T togarashi

Heat a small amount of water to about 180 degrees F. Place the peeled, soft-boiled egg in the water and cover to warm. Heat a griddle, cast-iron pan or nonstick pan to medium heat. Slice off two half-inch thick by six-inch long slices of the bacon. Place on the griddle. Cook until caramelized on both sides. Place the shiitakes in the miso butter and cook, covered, over medium heat. Saute the brussels sprouts in the olive oil. Remove the egg from the hot water and roll the tip in the togarashi. Spoon the kimchi puree on the plate. Arrange the cooked shiitakes and brussels sprouts on top of the puree. Place the crispy bacon and egg on top of the mushrooms and brussels sprouts.

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