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Boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, even many pot roast chicken recipes call for a few slices of bacon.

A dietician nicely approved of everything in my diet, with the exception of the bacon (fried nitrates are a known carcinogen, I believe was the reason). Yet from subsequent experience I know that bœuf bourguignon simply doesn't taste the same when I omit the bacon—and replace the fat rendered from bacon with butter. Instead of heavenly it tastes ordinary and mundane.

What can I use in lieu of bacon in boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin? Is this just one of those hopeless problems?

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  • 9
    Arguments like this are one of the reasons nutrition based questions are off-topic here, too much is based on different risk appetities. Regardless of the reason asking for a bacon substitute is a perfectly good question.
    – GdD
    Feb 23 at 8:41
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    Nitrite-free bacon is available in some markets, e.g. "Naked Bacon" (brand) in UK
    – Anentropic
    Feb 24 at 13:59
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    Dear all, I would like to remind everybody that we have a policy of not discussing health matters. In this case, the OP wants a substitute for cured bacon, and that is within the site scope. But comments and answers questioning their reason behind avoiding it, or suggesting that the OP's reason is invalid, are very much off-topic and will be summarily deleted.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 25 at 12:29

14 Answers 14

24

You could perhaps take some ideas from vegetarian recipes. Obviously, I know chicken isn't vegetarian, but if you need to avoid bacon there are vegetarian options for imparting the flavouring that you would otherwise get from bacon.

If it's a smoky flavour I want, I use Spanish smoked paprika. I frequently use it in lentil soup when cooking for vegetarian friends to avoid using bacon/ham. I use it in combination with vegetable stock cubes. Another smoky-flavoured spice is chipotle chili flakes - obviously this is much spicier than paprika, so be careful!

Another possibility is to use something like dried mushrooms, such as porcini; these have an almost pork-like concentrated umami/savoury flavour. I've also seen porcini mushroom powder, which can be used similarly, if you want to avoid pieces of mushroom.

Perhaps you could use a combination of all of these.

Another option, not vegetarian, is what is often referred to as Italian MSG - salted anchovy fillets. I know it sounds a bit weird, but these can add a wonderful salty meaty/umami flavour to dishes. Maybe just use two or three fillets. They will dissolve almost completely in a sauce. They're a strong flavouring but in small quantities they don't add a fishy flavour at all.

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  • 7
    Also add: smoked salt and smoked sun-dried tomatoes as options.
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 22 at 22:28
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    @FuzzyChef - I always forget about sun dried tomatoes. They're so yummy!
    – Billy Kerr
    Feb 22 at 22:39
  • You can get anchovy paste in tubes for easy dosing.
    – RedSonja
    Feb 23 at 12:07
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    Doesn't smoking add carcinogens similar to nitrites?
    – FluidCode
    Feb 23 at 12:27
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If nitrites are the issue, make your own bacon without using any pink curing salt, or use raw pork belly or fatback. Note: using commercial "uncured" bacon wouldn't work, because that's just cured using natural nitrites from celery.

Curing your own meats can be dangerous, so consult an expert, and/or make sure it is cooked immediately.

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20

Bacon adds 4 things:

  1. Fat: In theory, any fat will do as a replacement. In practice animal fats have different characteristics than most vegetable fats as they give a different mouth feel. Butter is a reasonable substitute, you could try a bit of coconut oil as it has some of the characteristics of animal fat
  2. Salt: this seems simple to replace, just add salt, there's more to it because salt sometimes gets confused with Umami, see point 4.
  3. Smoke: Note that in French cuisine you'd be using lardons rather than belly bacon, and that may or may not be smoked. So, replacing the smoke flavor may not be essential. If you want to replace it you could use smoked spices or other ingredients like smoked salt, smoked paprika, or a dash of liquid smoke
  4. Umami: Bacon is high in Umami, and is likely the thing you're really missing rather than the three above. Tomatoes and mushrooms do add umami, but they also will significantly change the flavor profile,my go-to ingredients for umami are soy products and MSG. I keep reduced salt soy sauce and regular dark soy sauce on hand and I used them for much more than Asian cooking. I use dark soy in darker stews and gravies and regular soy where I don't want color. Where I don't want any tint at all I will add a small amount of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) crystals as they are very concentrated. Stock cubes are often flavored by MSG as well, I often crumble half a cube in as a flavored salt

If you are trying to reduce your fat, salt and smoke intake I'd start with adding umami first to the dish and seeing if you like it, then add the other elements. I make a turkey chili where I replace the beefiness using smoked paprika, dark soy and part of a beef stock cube, no extra salt besides the cube and it comes out really flavorful. It's very low fat with no added salt besides the cube, but nobody misses either.

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  • If you could add what "MSG" is, that would make the good answere more readable Feb 25 at 11:43
  • Sure, done @Eulenfuchswiesel
    – GdD
    Feb 25 at 12:25
  • Just an addition to what you said: dried mushrooms work very well to improve the umami flavour. In Chinese cooking, dried shiitake mushrooms can sometimes be used to replace meat in dishes. Although dried porcinis or something else could work fine if you can't find them.
    – RYZEXY
    Feb 25 at 13:52
  • I'm not a fan of mushrooms as a substitute as they change the flavor profile @RYZEXY
    – GdD
    Feb 25 at 14:00
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I believe that in many traditional recipes, the main reason for bacon is to get the fat in which other ingredients are browned. Lard and bacon fat were common cooking fats in rural areas. For this purpose, the bacon can be replaced with a suitable amount of vegetable oil.

In the process, the bacon also brings flavours of browned pork and smoke. Billy Kerr's answer describes good replacements for these.

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Is it the flavor or texture of pig fat that's lacking? Can you substitute lard? Smoke and salt flavors are easy to add, and pork meat umami can come from nitrate-free pork products; you might need to use more to get the same amount of flavor, though.

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Thinly slice some pork belly and fry it with some salt and sugar until caramelized. Use it in place of the bacon, and use smoked paprika and/or smoked olive oil in your recipe to make up for the smoky factor of bacon.

Below is a recipe from YouTube on caramelized pork belly (no curing required):

enter image description here

I haven't followed that recipe, but many people commented on the video on how it the result tastes like bacon!

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    What a delicious looking picture!
    – Graham
    Feb 25 at 17:45
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Dried dulse (a type of seaweed) is regularly touted as a vegan ingredient with a flavour profile remarkably similar to bacon. If the smoky flavour is also required, add a little liquid smoke, or perhaps use smoked garlic or smoked paprika in your recipe. It is readily available online, and probably in shops/stores too, but I can't vouch for that.

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Once tasked with coming up with a vegetarian substitute to Coq au Vin, I took the following approach:

  • Smoked tofu,
  • coated in Grünkern flour and roasted with lots of oil (or maybe it was clarified butter), and
  • more spices, salt, and extra dried tomatoes.

It wasn't the best thing, but good enough.

My invention concurs with the other answers round here: the tofu substituted smoked flavour, the pre-roasting gives you some good Maillard reaction and fat, and more salt and tomatoes are for the umami and spice.

Since you don't do this for meat avoidance, you could actually use rendered lard instead of oil for better taste. Nowadays I'd probably add light soy sauce.

(Why Grünkern? Because it has a nuttier taste than flour, and doesn't thicken a sauce as much. And I just wanted to try it.)

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My suggestion is to add chipotle or some other smoked chili to the stew. I recentely made beans, I have to say it really tasted like there was bacon in the beans solely from the chipotle, more so than just adding e.g smoked paparika.

Fat wise, maybe butter + chiptole would to give a bacony flavour.

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If you have time you can try and put more wine than usual, a little bit more seasoning and overcook it.

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I tried using uncured turkey bacon in Coq au Vin today. The overall flavor was good but the texture of the bacon is unpleasant - it appears to harden with cooking. A further thought on the contribution made by bacon to the dish - in addition to rendering fat in which to cook other materials, I think bacon caramelizes as you cook it. My guess is that a great part of the flavor imparted to Coq au Vin comes from the deglazed bacon remnants in the pan, a taste that you will not obtain by instead adding smoked anything. Maybe this is the umami that others refer to.

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Use (uncured) salt port or fresh pork belly -- it is bacon with the curing and smoking. As others have mentioned, smoked paprika or smoked salt might be used to replace the smoky flavor. However, for French recipes it would be traditional to use unsmoked lardon, so replacing the smoke might not be necessary.

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Try liquid smoke, there are some that have relatively low sodium and sugar that are also vegetarian by themselves as condiments.

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You can just skip it.

It's just one of those "traditional" ingredient that can be omitted.

IMO, it does not add that much to the final product when you take into account all the other ingredients.

You could use nitrate-less bacon/lardons.

Also, you could just fry up the fat in the meat you're going to use (chicken skin, residual fat in stewing meats).

I rarely use bacon/lardons when doing stews, there's enough fat and flavouring in them already.

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    The asker has tried leaving out the bacon and reports that they are not happy with the results, hence the question here.
    – Stephie
    Feb 23 at 6:10

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