Evidence that bacon is less of a fad and more of a deeply ingrained cultural motif comes in the form of bacon salt. If we can't have our bacon, at least we can make other things taste like bacon. The problem is that the flavor in bacon salt has almost nothing to do with actual cured and smoked pork belly, according to Savory Spice co-founder Mike Johnston. "The bacon salt craze came around and we had a lot of requests at the store," explains Johnston, who owns the company with his wife, Janet. "It's something I would normally jump right on, but most of them are made with artificial bacon flavor."
So the idea of a pork-infused seasoning was set aside — until Johnston embarked on a six-week road trip covering America's barbecue country. After visiting some ninety barbecue joints from North Carolina to Texas and points in between, he couldn't stop thinking about the crispy pork rinds — often called chicharrones — served with hot-pepper vinegar at whole-hog smokehouses in the Carolinas. That's when the idea of making chicharron salt hit him, and he set out to create a seasoning that would capture the tangy, spicy and porky flavors he remembered from his barbecue adventure.
The first hurdle to clear was with the USDA, since Johnston planned on using real pork rinds for his product, not artificial flavors. He got the go-ahead from the government with the understanding that Savory would be purchasing ground chicharrones rather than making and processing meat products at the company's warehouse.
From there, he produced a small batch and sent a sample to Colorado State University for shelf-life testing. After the test results came back indicating that the product would be shelf-stable for a year, he knew he could go ahead with production — and so Savory Chicharron Salt was born. The recipe is fairly simple: just salt, pork rinds, vinegar powder and dried bell pepper, habanero and garlic. But the result is complex and powerful, with heat and tang backing up the full pork flavor.
Chicharron Salt will be available at Savory Spice stores beginning Thursday, August 17 — a day the spice company is declaring National Chicharron Day. Six-ounce cannisters will be available for an introductory price of $8.95 before the price goes up by a dollar in a month, but if you want a preview before you stock up, Rebel Restaurant, at 3763 Wynkoop Street, has been playing with the seasoning and now has a dish on its August menu that uses it to add subtle elements to an already flavorful dish. Chef/co-owner Bo Porytko says that Savory's product adds another layer of complexity to his pork crepinette (a roasted-pork patty wrapped in caul fat) served with Olathe corn broth, roasted green chiles, masa dumplings and lime crema.
"That's what a good finishing salt should do," Porytko explains. The salt draws out the smoky notes of the tequila in the corn broth and adds zing to the crema without making either unbearably salty.
We tried Savory's Chicharron Salt at home on a number of sweet and savory items, including ice cream (a winner), fried eggs, baked macaroni and cheese, and a margarita (on the rim). Keep reading to see a few more experiments.
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The trick to using the product is to be aware that it's still mostly salt, so you can either use a very small amount for finishing or you can substitute it for the salt you'd normally add to a dish. For example, Johnston says the salt was indispensable on a recent survival camping trip he took with his brother. "The only food I took with me was the chicharron salt," he notes, and he used it on nearly everything he foraged or caught, from river trout to wild asparagus.
Thanks to Johnston and Savory Spice, you now have a new way to pig out.