Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Render and Use Bacon Fat

Ahhh, yes... Bacon Fat.

Now this, my friends, is a true staple of the southern kitchen in my little ole humble opinion and it is a rare southern household that doesn't have a Mason jar or grease pot full of this hanging around the stove or in the fridge.

Course lots of times we cook with bacon, so we use both the bacon and the rendered fat from the bacon. Yum - nothing like bacon. Bacon fat just adds so much flavor to cooking it is impossible to match with any other fat, even butter, and y'all know I love butter.

First, while we're here on fats... {pulls out soapbox} as far as the butter versus margarine argument, I just flat out don't believe in using margarine. Period. I know there are arguments on both sides of the issue and mostly people use margarine for health reasons, but even still, I question that, because I believe that butter is the better choice when there is a health reason, when it is used it in moderation.

Here are my arguments. For one, butter is all natural. Butter is made from churning the cream that rises to the top of milk - that's it - so I know that butter is natural and my body immediately recognizes it for what it is. Butter is a great source of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and contains natural fatty acids our bodies need.

Margarine has its start from very low quality, chemically extracted refined vegetable oils to begin with. It often contains trans-fatty acids and toxic residues resulting from the process of turning that poor quality oil into a solid substance. These residues in excess can cause lung cancer, kidney disease, depression and contribute to diseases such as arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and malignancies. Margarine also contains artificial coloring agents to make it look like butter. Butter does not contain those trans-fatty acids or toxic metals or artificial colors.

Yes, margarine is cheaper, but considering that it is completely nutritionally bankrupt in comparison to the purity of butter, is that really a bargain? I choose to pick my budget battles and pinch my pennies in other areas to pay a little more for things like real vanilla and pure butter.

So, for me, butter wins hands down. Now... of course, I'm not gonna call you out as wrong for what you choose to use - I would never do that! Whatever you use is right for you and who am I to try and tell you otherwise?! I'm just sharing why I choose to use butter. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it! ;) {tucks away soapbox}

But... we're here to talk about bacon fat right now!

Except for the strainer that is built into my grease pot, I don't worry too much over straining it well,except for in some cases when I am about to use it, most often with a dark roux since I don't want the solid bits of bacon in there to burn my roux. Then I just warm it and strain it before using it. But as far as storing the rendered bacon fat, when I cook bacon, I just pour the drippings into my little grease pot or a mason jar and I keep it stored in the refrigerator. I know that some folks keep their bacon fat right on the stove or the counter. I don't know if they are straining it well first or not, but the idea of pieces of pork possibly being in that fat and going rancid and growing bacteria is disturbing to me, so I just play it safe and keep my jar in the fridge. When you pull it out to use it, just draw your spoon down to the bottom to turn the drippings and scoop from there, that way you're always circulating the older fat to the top.

If you want to strain it, while it's still pretty warm and liquid, just place a coffee filter or a paper towel over a spouted container of some sort like a glass Pyrex measuring cup and pour the bacon fat through the filter. This will remove the solid bits that are left behind from cooking the bacon. Discard the filter and transfer the strained fat into your Mason jar or some other glass container - don't use plastic - and stick that in the fridge.

What do you use it for? Well, I'll be the first to tell you that I use heart healthy oils like olive oil wherever I can. But sometimes getting a little boost of flavor from bacon drippings can really make a difference in flavor. Just about any place where you would generally use butter or oil to saute or flavor a dish, or oil to fry, you can use bacon fat.

On the occasion when I decide I want a dirty fried egg, I always cook a strip or two of bacon and cook my eggs right in the bacon drippings. I like my whites cooked and my yolks runny, so if I have made two strips, I'll crumble up one of them and sprinkle it right on top of my eggs just before I dig in. I've made my fried eggs that way forever and I love them. I'd eat them every day if I could get away with it. I do my Birds in a Nest in bacon drippings too.

I use bacon drippings a lot for my skillet cornbread, not only to coat the skillet to produce that wonderful crunchy crust we all love, but then after I swirl it around, I pour it right into the batter as my fat. I just love the flavor it adds to cornbread, and sometimes I'll even add in some crumbled bacon. It's great for old fashioned skillet biscuit bread too. It's even good with chex mix, though I still lean toward butter for that snack myself.

When I am making a light roux or gravy, bacon drippings add wonderful flavor to chicken gravy, or peppered milk gravy for chicken fried steak. I use bacon drippings in combination with butter for my loaded baked potato soup.

I use either bacon fat or bacon in combination with the drippings for many dishes I do, like when I make fried cabbage, collards or turnip greens, skillet potatoes, southern style green beans as well as my sweet and sour green beans. I use it for cream corn, drizzle it over crispy smashed potatoes, creamed squash and fried corn, but it's even great to use for a quick pan saute of fresh spinach or fresh greens too, both of which I love even though the Cajun won't touch either. I even use some bacon drippings in my skillet fried apples!

It's great for shallow frying meats, or even for browning grilled sandwiches, or even tater cakes. I use bacon with the drippings for pot roasted chicken and the fat even makes a great salad dressing. It's great for okra and tomatoes, or even just for sauteing okra in before adding it to a gumbo.

How long are stored bacon drippings good for? That's subjective I reckon! Depends on how often you use it and how you store it. The food police will tell you to use it up from the fridge within about 6 months, but I hesitate to say how long I've had my jar going. I just top the jar off with the new strained drippings, and take a spoon to turn it over so that the older drippings come up on top each time that I take it out of the fridge. Frozen, it keeps for a little bit longer.

You see? Cooked bacon and the residual drippings really are quite versatile! Just search my site using that search bar in the upper right hand corner with terms like bacon fat or bacon drippings, and I'm sure there are many things that will motivate your imagination, but start saving your bacon fat, and don't forget ... use it!


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