Editor's Note: This is the first installment of Meat Lite, a weekly column that will celebrate meat in moderation by Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond. Meat Lite was inspired by the book the two coauthored, Almost Meatless, coming out in Spring 2009.
Even among fats, bacon grease is considered a special kind of villain. It represents all the evils of saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol. But the fact is: bacon fat has the same amount of calories as olive oil. It's true that it has more saturated fat than some oils do, but it's no worse on that score than butter. And, if you start with high-quality bacon from Heritage pigs, it would be unforgivable to allow that flavorful fat to go to waste. I have a jar of congealed bacon fat in my fridge at all times.
In my experiences, a tablespoon of bacon fat makes a tray of ultra-healthy Brussels sprouts palatable to people who claim to hate this cruciferous veggie (the cruciferous family also includes kale, cabbage, and collards). Just melt the fat down in a skillet, toss with a mess of halved Brussels sprouts, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, and roast those cancer-fighters at 400 degrees until they are just brown and tender. Bacon fat also makes an excellent base for sauteing aromatics in otherwise vegetarian soups. It adds tremendous depth of flavor and meatiness with a tiny amount of extra fat.
But my favorite use for this wrongly vilified foodstuff is in my roasted potatoes. I eat them like French fries, as a side for mussels, burgers and salad. And yes, I serve them with an even eviler ingredient: homemade mayonnaise. But that's another post.
- 1 pound red bliss or new potatoes
- 2 slices thick-cut bacon (Something from a gourmet market, mail order, or a farmers' market)
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced
Preheat your oven to 450ºF. (Do you have a convection function? Now is the time to crank it up.) Wash the potatoes, then place them on a rimmed baking sheet and put them in the oven for three minutes to dry completely. (Dry things brown better, as do things cooked on pre-heated baking sheets.) Remove potatoes and return baking sheet to your still-heating oven. Cut the potatoes into uniform wedges—six or eight wedges per potato depending on their size.
Toss the potato wedges with the bacon fat and a liberal sprinkle of salt and pepper. When the oven is properly preheated, remove the hot baking sheet and lay the potatoes on it in one layer, cut side down.
Roast for 20 minutes or until well browned. Toss with chives while hot. Serve with ketchup or mayonnaise.