Bacon may well be the tastiest and most flavorful meat you can eat. Go ahead and disagree if you must, but there’s no denying its growing popularity. It seems that many people rebuffed bacon in favor of healthier foods that are fat free, cholesterol free, low calorie, high fiber, MSG free, flavor free, etc., etc., etc. Thankfully, with the backlash of all that flavor fear, bacon is making a comeback. Restaurants all over are incorporating bacon back into their menu items in new and unique ways. Of course you could always get a bacon cheeseburger, but how about adding smoked bacon aioli to that (like Red Robin did for their Pig-out burger)? Aioli sounds fancy, but it’s basically olive oil mayonnaise. Burgers are no real surprise as a vehicle for your bacon though. Neither are potatoes, filet mignon, or Cobb salads (which are all delicious ways to eat bacon), but surely there’s more we can do with this delicious cut of pork.
First of all, make sure you cook it properly. There are generally three methods used to cook bacon (pan fry, oven bake, and microwave) but my preference is pan fried. Regardless of the method you use, start with cold bacon rather than room temperature, and do not pre-heat the pan or oven. Another suggestion is to cut the package of bacon right in half before you even open it. I fry half a pound of bacon at a time and refrigerate the pieces that I will not use immediately. By always having cooked bacon in the fridge, you can be ready to include it in whatever dish you’re cooking as well as having it waiting when you find yourself fiending for it. I have found that it will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week, but I cannot attest to longer than that because I usually eat it all by then. No matter what method you use to cook your bacon, never ever throw away the fat. I have found the bacon fat to be the most versatile part.
The preferred way to save your bacon fat is to filter it through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Since I live on a budget and cannot bring myself to throw money away on cheesecloth, I simply use a paper towel. I use one paper towel folded in half twice and fold it around the top of a one cup glass (or glass-like) measure. Once your bacon is cooked and removed to paper towels to cool, tip that skillet or baking sheet up and let the fat drip into the towel-lined measuring cup. When it strains through completely, throw the paper towel away and you will be left with lovely filtered bacon fat. Pour this into whatever container you like (with a tight-fitting lid) and store in the refrigerator. I’ve found that an old 8oz sour cream container (washed) works perfectly well but that’s up to you. Remember, re-using is way better for the environment than recycling. As you cook more bacon, just keep adding the new filtered bacon fat to the existing so you’ll always have an abundance to use.
Now that you have this cooked bacon and filtered bacon fat, doors will be opened to reveal uses for it you never considered before. You can basically use the bacon fat in place of vegetable oil or shortening in any recipe that you think will benefit from a little bacon flavor. I always fry my eggs in bacon fat rather than vegetable oil or butter. You can also sauté your pierogies in it for extra flavor. For a delicious side dish alternative to French fries, scrub and wash (don’t peel) a potato, dice it between ¼” – ½”, and fry it in a skillet with 1-2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add a couple slices of chopped bacon and/or onion to it for extra flavor and texture as well. The next time you bake corn bread muffins, grease the muffin tin with bacon fat instead of shortening.
For a special snack, ditch the microwave bag of popcorn and buy some regular popcorn kernels. Melt 2-3 tablespoons of bacon fat over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottom pot with a lid and add ½ Cup of kernels. Keep the lid slightly ajar to let steam escape. Once the kernels begin to pop, swirl the pot periodically to keep them moving and prevent them sticking to the bottom. As with microwave popcorn, when the popping slows to a few seconds between pops, it’s done. Drizzle with butter but be careful with the salt since the bacon fat is salty already. If that sounds like too much trouble, you can actually buy bacon flavored microwave popcorn which is somehow vegetarian too.
Don’t underestimate bacon’s potential as a sweet treat either. Try chocolate covered bacon sometime; it’s amazing. Melt some white chocolate in a double-boiler or in the microwave on low-medium heat. Dip slices of refrigerated bacon in the melted chocolate so both sides are coated and set them on waxed paper. Once the chocolate hardens, dip them again for another coat. Repeat as many times as you like until you have a solid layer of white chocolate around the bacon. Store them in the refrigerator to keep the bacon fresh, but they should be eaten within a few days (if they last that long). Crumbled bacon is also delicious over vanilla ice cream. When you’re feeling more adventurous, I’d recommend these Bacon Ginger cookies as well.
When you’re exhausted from cooking all your delicious bacon foods, don’t forget that there are plenty of bacon-y products and candy to enjoy. If you cut yourself, you can even slap a bacon bandage on it. The applications for bacon really are limited only by your imagination.