Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Power of Bacon

Want to get a man to salivate? Say, “bacon.” It works on women, too. The only people this doesn’t work on is die hard vegetarians. Oh, Jews and Muslims aren’t going drool like a mad labradoodle, either. They don’t eat piggies. Mormons do, though. So does just about everyone else.

In case you’ve been living at a vegan commune, bacon is cured pig meat. It is highly salted, either by brine or dry pack, and usually smoked. It can be made from several cuts of meat, but mostly from the side and back cuts, except in America. Here in the US, it is almost entirely made from pork belly. Outside of the US this would be known as steaky, fatty, or American style bacon.

While other countries* use bacon, I think America has raised it to a national obsession. It’s become America’s meat. It’s cooked and cured differently in different countries, but here in America bacon is almost always smoked. The Virginia House-Wife,  published in 1824 and thought to be one of the earliest American cookbooks, mentions nothing about unsmoked bacon. Historical evidence seems to suggest that bacon making was one of the few cooking tasks that wasn’t gender specific. Either sex could be makin’ bacon.

Bacon can be cooked any number of ways: smoked, boiled, fried, grilled, even microwaved. It is wonderful enough to eat by itself, and versatile enough to be used as a flavoring agent for other dishes. It’s highly addictive nature is probably due to the large number of umami (savory) factors in it, giving it a high flavor profile.

In spite of America’s bacon mania, there’s one thing most American’s have quit doing, using bacon fat. Like most animal fats, pig fat liquefies, becoming bacon drippings when heated. If the meat is uncured, it becomes lard when cooled.  From cured meat, such as bacon, it becomes rendered bacon fat.

I recommend saving your bacon fat.  This may seem strange in today’s hyper-health conscious world, but don’t dismiss the idea out of hand. Rendered bacon fat is very flavorful and can be used for a variety of cooking purposes. In Southern cooing, rendered bacon fat is used as a base for cooking and as an all-purpose flavoring. You’ll find it in everything from gravy to cornbread to salad dressing. If I don’t have any bacon on hand, I’ll use it to add flavor to split pea soup and other dishes, instead of the regular oils or butters used to cook them.

The idea isn’t super healthy, I admit, but it does save some money and adds interest to cooking. It appeals to the frugal side of me. My mother didn’t do it much, but my grandmother and great-grandmother did. You just didn’t waste anything in those days. It was too hard to get in the first place.

Rendering bacon fat is easy. Next time you cook bacon, just pour off the accumulated fat, run it through a fine mesh strainer, and let it cool. You can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container for several weeks, or several months in the the freezer.

*What American’s think of as Canadian bacon is actually back bacon, smoked or unsmoked bacon cut from boneless eye of pork loin


BBQ Grail said...

Just wanted you to know your blog post was featured on The BBQ Grail's 10 Posts Worth A Look for this week.

Kevin (BBQ Smoker Site) said...

Thanks to Larry @BBQGrail for steering me in you direction! Have added you to my Google Reader list of blogs to follow!

Erica K said...

Rendered pig fat makes excellent soap or a good seasoning on cast iron pans.