This past Sunday as I was coming home from church, Lynne Rosetto Kasper on “The Splendid Table” was chatting with a caller to the radio program about bacon fat in cookie recipes. Like many of us, I grew up with the can of bacon fat on the counter (I really don”t remember it being refrigerated), waiting to be dipped into for frying or flavoring. And, for a time in my life I, too, saved bacon fat, refrigerated, and would spoon a tad in the water for my butter beans or mix it with olive oil for frying corn or green tomatoes, or in my cast iron muffin pan for corn muffins. I used it judiciously, telling myself that a little bit couldn”t hurt me.
As I made more friends who were not from the South, I became sensitively aware of my use of bacon fat. “Gross” and “I can”t believe you cook with that!” were just a couple of the comments I remember from roommates past. So, I meekly stopped saving my bacon fat, stopped eating bacon I guess, and switched to blander oils like canola.
Oh, hallelujah, I”m back again cooking in the South with my “kind” of cooks — people who understand the need for a little pork fat every now and then. And, of course, with my foodie group, Southern Foodways Alliance, I have the support I need to use bacon fat any time I like.
Every which way
Several years ago, Terry and I attended a dinner in Louisville, Ky., and ate six courses of artistically smoked pork product, right down to the dessert — bacon baklava. It might have been a little much. I felt like I had smoked a pig cigarette by the end of it; however, the point was to showcase families who have been making a living smoking pork for generations.
There is a Bacon of the Month club (www.gratefulpalate.com) that will ship you different small-batch produced bacon each month. One of the most popular is that of Allan Benton (bentonshams.com) near Madisonville, Tenn. I”ve had this bacon many times and can attest to its rich and smoky flavor. But, then again, I can eat just about any bacon (Hormel Black Label is my grocery store fav right now), except for the precooked microwave kind. My mother loved this sort of instant bacon, and I never said a word to her about it. But it”s so skinny and fatless. Why bother?
Back to the cookies. I came home and looked online and sure enough, I found several recipes on making cookies using bacon fat. They were all some sort of spice or molasses cookie. It brought to mind the brown sugar bacon someone once served me in New York. I was so shocked to be given a glass of wine and a piece of bacon in a chic New York apartment, but, you know — it was really, really good. If you haven”t had this tasty treat, I”ve included a recipe below. It is equally good and a little spicier if you add a dash of cayenne and dry mustard to the brown sugar and maybe sprinkle chopped pecans on top. This bacon would be fabulous cut up in a spinach salad.
You can do that?
On different SFA trips I”ve tasted bacon peanut brittle and bacon cotton candy, and there is something to be said for them. Salty, smoky, sweet and yummy. I also found a candy bar online by Vosges called “Mo”s Bacon Bar.” I had one of their mini chocolate bars with salted smoked almonds last week (from Whole Foods), and I can imagine that the bacon version would be equally exotic.
An okra note
Before I leave I”d like to pass on more okra tips that came to me after the last column. (Who knew okra was so popular?) One is a recipe from “Cross Creek Cookery” by way of Margo Bretz. Only tiny okra are used, with some stem left on. Drop the okra into boiling water and boil exactly seven minutes. Drain quickly and serve with hollandaise sauce for dipping. Sounds delish.
Then Annis Cox told me that she grills okra. We grilled lots of veggies last week, but didn”t think to try okra. But I have plenty coming along in the garden and lots of tomatoes — if the birds will please leave them alone.
Brown Sugar Bacon
1 pound thick-sliced bacon
1/2 cup brown sugar
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 425.
- Bake 10 minutes and then drain fat from pan. Bake 5-10 minutes more until it is as crispy as you like.
3/4 cup bacon fat, cooled (from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds bacon)
1 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup for dusting the cookies
4 tablespoons dark molasses
One large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine all ingredients. Spin until dough forms.
- Chill the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours. Drop the dough in 1-tablespoon lumps on a cookie sheet, form into balls, roll in sugar, space 2 inches apart and press flat with fingers.
- Bake cookies in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until dark brown. Let them cool on a baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to finish cooling.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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