Photo courtesy of Katy G. Wilkens.
Can you go salt free and still experience the joys of bacon? I can think of two ways to do that – a grocery store method and a do-it-yourself method.

You Are What You Eat: It’s better with bacon! Salt-free bacon, that is

By Katy G. Wilkens

According to the dialysis patients I work with at Northwest Kidney Centers, the high-salt food they miss the most on their medically restricted diet is bacon. The smoky-sweet salty flavor improves the taste of lots of foods, and the crispy texture can be a nice contrast in everything from a BLT sandwich to a green pea salad.

Can you go salt free and still experience the joys of bacon? I can think of two ways to do that – a grocery store method and a do-it-yourself method.

At the supermarket, you can find commercially packaged low sodium bacon. But most is only 20 percent to 30 percent lower in sodium than regular varieties — and bacon is so salty to begin with that even reduced-sodium types are high in sodium. Besides, the World Health Organization recently listed preserved meats as carcinogens. That’s yet another reason to find an alternative.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative you can make at home. Blogger Jessica Goldman Foung, known online as Sodium Girl, has perfected a recipe for low-sodium bacon. You’ll find it and many other wonderful recipes on her website, www.sodiumgirl.com. She’s also written two excellent cookbooks about low-sodium dishes: “Lo-So Good” and “Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook.” Full disclosure: three of my Northwest Kidney Centers colleagues and I are featured in “Lo-So Good.”

I make up a batch of this tasty bacon substitute to use or freeze, and have it ready whenever a recipe calls for bacon.

It’s easiest to start with a pre-sliced pork belly, but that can be hard to find. I buy my sliced pork belly at Asian markets. Black pig pork belly is my favorite because it seems a little leaner. If you can only find a slab of pork belly, slice as thin as possible with a sharp knife. Partially freeze the slab to make slicing easier. Sometimes uncut and pre-sliced pork bellies still have skin on them, so use shears or a sharp knife to remove the thick top layer of skin.

Sodium Girl’s Low Salt Bacon
1 pound pork belly, sliced into 1/8 inch thick strips if butcher is willing, or partially freeze, and then slice into strips no more than 1/4 inch thick.
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper

Optional: 4 teaspoons liquid smoke (or add a pinch of salt-free hickory smoke powder or extra smoked paprika to the rub). We used Cedar House Ultra-Premium Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Cover two baking pans with aluminum foil and place wire cooling racks on top. Place the prepared strips of pork belly on the racks; be careful not to overcrowd them. (You’ll probably use two or three baking pans.)

Mix liquid smoke and maple syrup in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the dry spices.

Then, use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the pork belly strips with the maple syrup mixture. Sprinkle the spices on one side of pork belly strips, and then put in oven for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, cover a plate with a paper towel and set aside.

When the pork has cooked, remove the pans from the oven. Then use a large sauté pan or a cast iron skillet to fry a few bacon strips at a time over medium-high heat until crispy spots begin to show, about 2 minutes each side. Watch carefully — it burns easily. Use tongs or chopsticks to remove the bacon from skillet and place on the paper towel-lined plate. Continue until all the bacon is fried. Use or freeze within 3 days.

Nutrition information:
Without liquid smoke: Calories: 156, Carbohydrates: 2 grams, Protein: 3 grams, Sodium: 10 mg

Low Salt Bacon recipe reprinted with permission of Jessica Goldman Foung.

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.
 
[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. A recipient of the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award from the National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.]

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