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Friday, March 18, 2011

Waste Not: Bacon

Gratuitious bacon shot
More specifically, bacon grease.  My mom kept a coffee can by the stove to collect bacon grease so that it didn't clog up the disposal.  She threw it out when it got full.  I don't know for sure that my grandmothers or great-grandmothers kept a can by the stove the collect bacon grease, but if they many housewives of their generation did and it was to use for cooking.  Most cookbooks written before the 1960's don't specify what kind of fat to use in a recipe...because the cook might have been using rendered bacon fat just as often as oil or butter.

But it's so high in fat!!  So are butter and olive oil, actually.  It's all fat, and you shouldn't go bonkers with any of it really.  Bacon grease is immensely flavorful (like butter) with a high smoke point (like canola oil).  You don't have to drown all your cookery in bacon fat, but a tablespoon added to other fats will help correct their deficiencies.  Just don't add any extra salt to the recipe.

Stored grease
I cook bacon by the pound in the oven, partly because it's easier than microwaving 6 pieces at a time, partly because fully cooked bacon keeps a few days very well for snacking, breakfast and sandwiches, and partly because oven-cooking renders the most fat for the least work.  I keep bacon grease in a tupperware container in the fridge.  You can do purifying rituals with bacon grease involving slices of raw potato, cheesecloth and chanting at the full moon, but whatevs...little wee bits of actual bacon don't bother me so much.  And with butter getting to be $3+/pound where I live, why throw out a similar product that's pretty much free?

A little bit of bacon fat is marvelous for cooking eggs, making hash browns, sauteeing plain greens, and starting stews.  Substitute a couple tbsps of bacon for butter in your mac and cheese, homemade or boxed (Why? SEE "price of butter" above).  As always, the more flavor your ingredients have, the less work you have to do overall.  If you don't want to store bacon grease, plan a meal that uses the bacon and the grease in one fell swoop. 

Bacon Sandwiches, Braised Mixed Greens, Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4

1 lb. bacon
1 box macaroni and cheese + 1/4 cup milk + 2 tbsp butter
1 lb. mixed greens (beet greens, mustard greens, kale, baby spinach, spring mix) chopped
4 rolls

Preheat oven to 400F.  Lay bacon on two rimmed cookie sheets.  Bake 10 minutes, then flip bacon strips.  Depending on your brand, style and thickness of cut, oven-cooking can take 15-25 minutes.  Start checking after an addition 5 minutes and pull when the bacon is just short of your preferred doneness.  It will continue browning and crisping as it cools.  Slice and toast rolls, if desired.
Oven cookery of scrummy bacon
 Pour off 2 tbsp of bacon grease to use in mac and cheese.  Prepare mac and cheese per instructions on the box (or per homemade recipe), substituting the bacon grease for 2 tbsp butter in the recipe.

Milk and fats for mac and cheese

Heat remaining bacon grease in a large pot over medium heat.  Add olive oil or butter if there is less than 1/4 cup bacon grease.  Add greens and cook 2-5 minutes.
Cooked greens

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