My grandparents grew up in the Depression. And like many people who came of age during that time, they are extremely frugal and reuse everything. Foil, Ziplock bags, plastic containers, glass jars, clothes, and anything else they can figure out a way to make last longer than its expected lifetime. If you’re riding in the car and you get thirsty, Grandpa will hand you an old syrup bottle filled with water. If Grandma sends me a pecan pie, it’s sealed in a Ziplock bag that has also held vegetables, meat and cheese in its long life. You get the idea. And I am not mocking them, I think these are fine traits and in respect to my elders, I also reuse everything at least once. I have a cupboard filled with Chinese-takeout containers that I use to store leftovers–I haven’t had the urge to attend a Tupperware party in years. And even though as a kid I was always embarrassed that the foil wrapped around my soda on field-trip day was wrinkled from many uses (the other kids always had smooth, shiny foil wrapped around their cans), as a frugal grown-up I reuse foil until it has holes in it, which can take a long time, it being metal and all.
But one of the finest reusable goods comes from a pig. Until I started cooking on my own, I always thought it silly that my mom and grandma poured bacon grease into a jar instead of just dumping it down the sink. They always said you couldn’t throw grease down the sink because it would mess up the pipes. This may be true, I don’t know. But the real reason they saved the bacon grease is this: because it is the number-one secret ingredient you can use in certain dishes. I spoon it into beans, use a little when frying up eggs or steak, fold a bit into my biscuit dough, sizzle it up for my cornbread, drop a spoonful into my marinara sauce, toss a dollop in my cooked vegetables—anytime I need a little pork pick-me-up, nothing is easier than reaching into my jar of bacon honey (um, yeah, I realize that sounds kind of gross) and adding a pure shot of flavorful delight. I don’t know what it is about the stuff, but it’s amazing how so little can add so much luscious, velvety goodness to a dish. It’s not for everything, of course, but when it’s used well it easily lifts the mundane into the sublime.
If you don’t have already have a jar on hand and you cook bacon, next time you fry up a skillet, after the grease cools (wait at least half an hour) pour it into a container. I use an old mason jar, but you can use plastic, too. The key is to make sure it’s at least room temperature or your container will either explode or melt. Store it in a cool place and it will last a long time. Don’t become frustrated if at first it doesn’t look like much. Just keep cooking bacon and you’ll soon have a substantial sum. And be sure and scrape the pan for the bacon bits, they add even more flavor.
Do you use use bacon grease? If you do, what dishes do you enhance with its scrumptiousness?