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So I've got a vegan chili I make on a regular basis that I think is pretty darn good, but I'm always looking for ways to make it better. (I'm not actually vegan. Obviously.) Last time I included bacon and bourbon but the effect was... not what I had hoped. The bacon became very soggy and the bacon flavor was non-existent. (So was the bourbon flavor, but that's neither here nor there.)

Here's my current method for the chili in broad strokes (makes about 10 cups):

  1. Saute onions, peppers (as well as the chili peppers), and cumin seeds in some oil until onion is translucent
  2. Dump in beans, tomatoes, liquids (usually beer + veggie broth), and spices
  3. Pressure cook in the instant pot for ~6 mins
  4. Add some tomato paste and then simmer to reduce for 30-60 mins until desired thickness

My first attempt at this was just throwing in 3-4 slices of already-cooked, chopped up bacon in during step 2, but clearly that didn't work so well.

How can I get this to go better so I have a present-but-not-overpowering bacon flavor without gross floppy bits of bacon everywhere?

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    Why bacon? It wouldn't be my first choice to add as it gets soggy easily. – GdD Mar 30 '17 at 19:23
  • I just thought the flavor would be a nice little boost. But yeah, that was the problem I was having. – Zelbinian Mar 30 '17 at 19:32
  • I'm with you flavor-wise. Bacon good. – GdD Mar 30 '17 at 19:34
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    "Why bacon?" I can't believe I just read those words! – PoloHoleSet Mar 30 '17 at 20:40
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    Most vegan and vegetarian dishes are even more delicious with bacon! – eckes Mar 31 '17 at 12:16
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Moving to answer for OP. If you want to save the crispiness, or a least some of it, the suggestions of sprinkling small pieces at serving time would seem the way to go. It will give you the noticeable contrast and even draw attention to the bacon while not over-powering the base chili flavors. The added bonus that eckes points out is that it gives the option to anyone who prefers to stay away from pork or meat in general to just omit it.

If however you prefer to get the flavor of bacon through the chili, the opposite direction is the way I would go. With things like chowder, many people start with a block of salt pork or slab bacon. I like the smokiness, so bacon for me. Toss that into your pot first and start to saute it,that is make it your step 0. If too much fat pour off some. Then saute your onions and aromatics in that and go from there. When done or well along, pull out the meat. If you want it back in, chop into small pieces and return it, but it will not have a crisp bacon texture. Small pieces will keep if for being off-putting though. This should get you a deeper flavor that permeates the chili.

You could in fact combine the two, use the slab to create the flavor base, then add the crumbles just before serving to accent and provide the texture.

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You have two different approaches from Catija and eckes, depending on what you favor, but you could also combine both approaches -

Start by chopping up the bacon, and then cooking it in the pot until it's nicely crisped and the fat is rendered.

Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, to paper towels to soak the remaining fat from the bacon and leave it in it's crisped state. Leave the drippings/fat behind in the pot, and use that instead of oil to saute the vegetables. This will allow the bacon flavor to permeate the dish, overall, a bit more.

Then, either just before serving, or on the side to sprinkle over the served dish, add the bacon or allow the eater to add, themselves.

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    This is what I do with my corn-potato chowder. Start the bacon in the big pot, take it out, use the fat left behind to cook the onions, then when everything's done, crumble bacon over the top. Works great. – Kate Gregory Mar 30 '17 at 20:45
  • @KateGregory - Your own home recipe, or do you have a link you can post in a comment? Sounds like something I'd like to try. I have a bit of a soup and stew fetish. – PoloHoleSet Mar 30 '17 at 20:46
  • It's my own thing, but it's just onion, potato, leeks, chicken stock, and frozen corn, topped with the cooked bacon. Quick and delicious. – Kate Gregory Mar 30 '17 at 20:49
  • @KateGregory - Thanks! I should be able to figure out the rest from that info. Now I'm hungry..... – PoloHoleSet Mar 30 '17 at 20:54
  • @KateGregory - Don't know if you have access to much sweet corn during the summer, but here is a sweet corn bisque recipe that is just out of this world. Also, I've used it as a base for other bisques. highbeam.com/doc/1G1-69340130.html – PoloHoleSet Mar 30 '17 at 20:57
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I'd say you need to cook the bacon in step one with the onions, peppers et all... don't use any other oil, just let the bacon fat render out.

I recommend first cutting the bacon up in 1/2 inch (1 cm) squares rather than leaving it in whole pieces (so it's more similar in size to the onion pieces).

This won't necessarily prevent it from being soggy... the only way to prevent soggy bacon is to not put it in at all but to put it on top. There's too much moisture in the chili to keep the bacon crispy. Cutting the bacon into small pieces will minimize the gross appearance, though and will help it blend in a bit more.

All that said, if you have a lot of flavor in the chili already, I don't know that you're necessarily going to get much from the bacon... it's a flavor that likes to be the star and not compete with other similar flavors... and I don't think that chili is the place for that... but that's just me.

You might be able to help emphasize the salty/umami flavor of the bacon by adding some soy sauce, which I find to really help my turkey chili taste more like beef chili.

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Fry the bacon separately and let it rest on a plate with kitchen paper.

When your chili is done, sprinkle the bacon over the individual portions while serving.

Your bacon will be crispy and you'll notice the bacon bits during eating.

This has also the advantage that you could invite your vegan friends for dinner and share the chili with them.

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    This has a lot of merit if you want the feel of notice of bacon. If you want the flavor to permeate the dish, I would try to other extreme, go with a chunk of bacon and start with that, saute it in you chili pot, then start adding ingredients using the bacon fat to saute. Once stewing is well under way, then I would remove the bacon, just leaving the flavor behind or cut into small bits and return it. Much like might be done to start a chowder or such. – dlb Mar 30 '17 at 19:40
  • You should post this as an answer hint hint – Zelbinian Mar 30 '17 at 19:44
  • @Zelbinian If you want someone to be notified of a comment, you need to direct it at them in the same way I've directed this at you. Otherwise, there's no way to guarantee that they will return to see it. There are a couple of exceptions - times where's it's unnecessary to direct address someone - but in this case, it is necessary. :) – Catija Mar 31 '17 at 15:06
  • @Catija Haha, right, forgot. Used to Facebook where it tells you about every little thing :p – Zelbinian Mar 31 '17 at 16:23

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