By Janet Lampman, Lewis Waite Farm
Many of us recall growing up with a container of bacon grease near the kitchen stove. My family did not eat a lot of fried food, but a little dab of the melted bacon grease often offered an economical and flavorful way to fry fresh perch, not to mention eggs and pancakes.
Bacon grease from pastured pork is way too flavorful to pitch out. It adds a delicious flavoring to roasted root vegetables, a base for sauteing fresh greens such as kale, and even a smoky sweetness to apples in apple pie. You can get pastured pork from many Saratoga Farmers’ Market vendors including Lewis Waite, Longlesson, and Longview farms. Lewis Waite Farm also offers ground beef, chorizo sausage, and a variety of beef and pork products.
The Joy of Cooking recommends clarifying bacon fat before storing it for long-term use. Reheat it slowly in a frying pan and add four to five slices of potato to help absorb unwanted flavors. After the potato has turned brown, strain the fat through cheesecloth into a jar, cover the jar and refrigerate. It will keep up to six months.
What are some of my favorite ways of using bacon grease? Try roasting cut up onions, garlic, leeks, potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots and any other root vegetables and placing them in a baking dish. Drizzle them with two to three teaspoons of warmed-to-liquid bacon grease, sprinkle salt and pepper and perhaps some chopped herbs on top and roast at 350 degrees until fork tender (usually 45 minutes).
Or try warming a tablespoon of bacon grease in a skillet just to bubbling. Then add a bunch of thinly sliced kale or chard leaves. Stir to saute about two minutes and toss in a few well-chopped garlic cloves. Cover and cook at low heat, and then serve topped with a sprinkling of grated parmesan, asiago, aged smoked gouda or your favorite cheese. You can also add ground beef, chorizo, Cajun andouille or hot sausage sautéed with plenty of onion.
Bacon grease is saturated fat, which can be unhealthful in large quantities. But many experts have found that saturated fats in moderation can support physical and mental longevity. In addition, the use of bacon grease supports sustainable farming because using it ensures that less of the animal goes to waste. Use it moderately and it will go far.
Visit the Saratoga Farmers’ Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Lincoln Baths Building in the Saratoga Spa State Park.
Cheddar & Bacon Cornbread
Recipe courtesy of Lewis Waite Farm
*Ingredients available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market
• 1 cup unbleached flour; try also ½ c. whole wheat + ½ c. unbleached
• 1 cup high quality (organic varieties are non-GMO) coarse cornmeal or corn flour
• ¼ cup maple syrup or coconut sugar (you can also reduce amount to 2-3 T.)*
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp (or less) salt
• 1 cup grated or shredded sharp aged cheddar, smoked cheddar, or jalapeno cheese*
• 1 cup buttermilk (can substitute a short cup of milk, mix in 1-2 T cider vinegar)*
• 2 large eggs*
• 4 T melted bacon grease (not hot)*
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Grease or butter a 8 x 8 inch metal baking pan or an 8-9 inch cast iron skillet.
3. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder and soda, and salt in large bowl. Stir in cheese.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs lightly, add buttermilk and melted bacon grease.
5. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients, stir gently until just mixed –less is definitely more here.
6. Transfer batter to prepared pan or skillet.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, approximately 25-30 minutes.