Ladiees and gen-tel-men!
by Judy Schultz
In the wake of a local festival known as Porkapalooza, I give you bacon butter. For the sake of efficiency, we’ll call it BB.
A bit of history. My grandmother was a frugal farm cook. She may have invented the phrase, use-it-or-lose-it, especially as applied to that great culinary luxury, bacon fat, which she hoarded in an empty tomato can above her stove. Keep reading, you’ll thank me for this later.
As the proud owner of a Jersey cow, she also made her own butter. Whenever she had extra butter, it went into the tomato can along with the bacon fat (the duck fat, the chicken fat, the goose fat, etc…like I said, she was a frugal farm cook.) And there it sat, Gram’s go-to fat for frying everything.
Yes, she should have kept it cold, but she didn’t, and nobody died. She also made the best fried vegetables I’ve ever tasted.
Instead of the tomato can, start with a clean jar, one on the smaller side.
Cook as much bacon as you’re prepared to eat – a toasted bacon and tomato sandwich is a good start. Immediately pour the drippings through a small sieve into your jar and add to this a roughly- equivalent amount of butter, which will melt into the bacon fat. Refrigerate. Sorry, Gram.
It will develop a creamy-ivory colour and the consistency of honey butter. What we have here is BB, one of the world’s tastiest frying mediums, equalled only by duck fat.
Now for the vegetables. The thinner they are, the faster they’ll cook, so a mandolin slicer is a great idea. Potatoes and onions are a given, but young carrots cooked in this mixture are sheer genius, especially if you add a drizzle of maple syrup once they’ve started to brown. For mature carrots, slice them on the diagonal for more surface. Carrots fried this way are totally, sweetly delicious.
Next up, zucchini. Always better when it’s fried, it needs a high, fast heat to give it that golden-brown sheen. The BB treatment improves zucchini so much that people actually enjoy it, especially if you add a thinly-sliced young carrot.
And so to greens, nemesis of small boys and carnivores. Wash any mixture of spinach, beet tops, chard, arugula, mizuna, kale or almost any of the Chinese greens. Dry them in a salad spinner so they won’t go soggy. Toss them fast, in a hot pan generously endowed with BB. The instant they begin to wilt, serve ’em up. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar wouldn’t be out of place.
If you want corn with your dinner and are temporarily cobless, this works with niblets. Fry them in BB, along with diced sweet red pepper, red onion, maybe a finely diced jalapeño. Season liberally with freshly- ground black pepper. It’s important to give the corn enough heat to caramelize it, shaking the pan vigorously.
Fried green tomatoes are a given, but finally, there’s the blistered tomato, a perfect side dish for steak, and for the excess of the tiny tomatoes that must be dealt with at the winding down of the season. I like a mixture of red and yellow cherry tomatoes.
Melt a generous amount of BB in a frying pan, and the minute it begins to sizzle, toss in the tomatoes. Crank up the heat as far as it will go and shake the pan while the tomatoes sizzle. The skins will begin to pucker, and that’s the moment to sprinkle them with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Season with salt, pepper and a few leaves of torn oregano. Yum.