In the back of my refrigerator there is a glass jar. Originally this jar held a fancy mustard but now it’s filled with bacon fat, layered like strata in a canyon, the bottom of each layer dark with motes of burnt meat. It is, in its own way, a geologic history of our kitchen—at the very bottom of the jar lies a record of the first time we cooked bacon together—a leisurely Sunday-morning breakfast accompanied by eggs with runny yolks and, perhaps, grits or maybe toast.
After the bacon had cooked and was resting on paper towels, we poured most of the grease out of the skillet, leaving behind just a slick of fat to fry the eggs. The jar was never meant to be a permanent fixture. Andy meant to throw it away after it had cooled but then we stuck it in the fridge and plain forgot about it until the next time we fried up some bacon and needed to drain the skillet. At that point there was enough fat in the jar to perhaps do something with and it seemed a waste to throw it away. Yet I didn’t quite know what to do with it and so there the jar sat, and sat, and sat some more.
What helped, finally, was the realization that bacon fat is, essentially, lard. A saltier, more flavorful lard.
Now I never in my life thought I’d be saying this but lard, it seems, is having a moment.
Possibly as part of the backlash against the ‘partially-hydrogenated/shelf-stable/what-exactly-does-this-ingredients-list-mean-and-how-do-they-make-that’ corporatization of Food, or maybe it is also a result of the foodie trend of ‘knowing your farmer’ and cooking from snout to tail.
Or perhaps it is nostalgia for the way (great-)grandma used to cook, a longing for a bygone, simpler era?
Whatever the reason, lard is back. There’s a cookbook devoted entirely to the subject, articles touting its health benefits and why it fell out of favor, and restaurants highlighting it on menus.
And while I’m not about to start rendering my own lard, I will gladly render my own bacon fat.
If you have some of your own you need to use up, bacon fat is good substituted for butter or shortening in pie crusts for savory dishes—think chicken pot pie or quiche.
Unlike lard, bacon fat retains some of its flavor and saltiness, so if you’re going to substitute bacon fat for butter or shortening in a recipe just remember to decrease the amount of salt substantially (how much I can’t say—try to taste as you go).
The first time I made these they were way too salty. I’ve since reduced the amount of salt quite a bit and now I have to say I think they’re just about perfect, especially for a lazy Sunday morning, and not a bad way to use up something that would normally get thrown out. And that, I think, would make great-grandma proud.
Bacon Fat Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe
adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking
5 cups all-purpose (or, if you’re a southern biscuit purist, White Lily brand) flour
1 Tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6-8 Tablespoons bacon fat, chilled
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted–optional
Preheat oven to 475°.
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Add the bacon fat and cut it into the flour using a pastry blender or 2 knives until approximately the size of peas. Add the buttermilk and stir just until blended.
You can either use the ‘drop’ method, spooning the dough out in large dollops onto the baking sheet, or roll them out and cut them with a biscuit cutter. Either way, place them on the baking sheet so the sides are touching the other biscuits.
Bake for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter, if desired. Serve immediately.