In Praise of…..
It is with fear in my heart that I sit down to add my writing to the esteemed group who have been tapped to write guest posts for the “summer bl*g.” I love my daughter-in-law, and as much as I love her, I love her blog…the humor, the pictures, and the tasty recipes. In fact, it is the highlight of my day when she posts, and the cloud that covers the sun when she doesn’t. Her culinary friends and family are erudite and sophisticated in their cooking, eating, and conversations about food, and the idea that I need to match them…intimidating. So, methinks, what do I have that is unique? Immediately I knew. BACON FAT!
I grew up in Oklahoma. It is the land of fresh vegetables, cooked until the grayness appears, and fresh slaughtered meats, fried. There is no real way to cook without bacon fat if this is your point of origin. My grandparents, in the small Oklahoma town where they lived, often rushed to the aid of a family whose home had been “burned out.” As I think of it, I have no idea why so many houses burned. It was a very small town; how many houses could there have been, really? But, it seems they often did burn (perhaps owing to liquor, which was illegal and therefore plentiful), and the neighbors rallied to provide the necessities. Ubiquitous among the clothes, blankets, and furniture, was a Crisco can of bacon grease. This was when the can was metal and did not bear the marks of either butter flavor or “do not fill with hot liquid.” Truth was, if one was to cook in those parts, one could not without an adequate supply of bacon grease. So, this flavor pervades my youth….and truthfully, my early years of marriage. I am here today to bring to you the wonders of bacon grease. Let me list its uses:
• Rubbed on the outside of potato skins before baking, it imparts a wonderful flavor and crisp skin
• Green beans sautéed in bacon fat before parboiling, with a bit of sugar added—sublime
• Biscuits, dipped in liquid bacon fact before baking—heaven
• And the ultimate Southern delicacy...CHICKEN FRIED STEAK WITH CREAM GRAVY
(To those of you who have just turned away in disgust I say, “Ye of little faith.” That is also what they say in Oklahoma at “dinner on the grounds” of the local Methodist church, but that is another story for another day.)
Here is the recipe. You must follow it faithfully for the proper results, a mélange of crispy coating and creamy white sauce. In fancy restaurants they laud the meat used, but the truth is that it makes no difference what the meat is once you encase it with coating, fry it up, and cover it with a blanket of white. In my family, cube steaks were the meat of the day.
Season the meat well (no chicken or veggie substitutes allowed) with season-salt and pepper. Mix flour in a separate bowl with more salt and pepper. (When you consider the cholesterol, think nothing of the sodium.) In another bowl, mix several eggs with whole milk, quantities being commensurate with the amount of meat.
In a cast iron skillet of good size heat a generous amount of bacon fat, say halfway up the side of the pan. (Oh, please, do not whine to me about where you get that much bacon fat. If you are eating this, you are having bacon for breakfast every morning and pouring the fat into your own Crisco can.) The grease (not oil, grease) should be hot enough to start to sizzle when the meat enters it, but not so hot that it burns rather than cooks.
Author's note: If you think I am cooking this so I can take a picture to show you, you are out of your mind. If I make it, I eat it. Therefore, these must suffice.
One of perhaps six packages of bacon you will need to produce the quantity of bacon fat necessary. Note, I have eaten some of it...and don’t touch my Crisco can!
Dip each piece of meat in the flour mixture, then egg mixture, then back into the flour. There is no shaking here, as you want a thick coating to absorb every delicious molecule of bacony goodness possible. Into the hot fat each piece goes, but do not crowd. The temperature must remain level, and the coating must remain surrounded by grease in order to achieve the perfect golden crust.
After all the meat has been fried, the gravy must be made. DO NOT SKIP THIS PART. Any fool can fry meat. Pour off all the bacon fat but 2 to 3 tablespoons. (You can save this delicious grease, made even tastier by the beef juices, for another round of steak or Southern fried chicken.) Add some of the seasoned flour, enough to make a roux. (If you do not know how much this is, you should not be making this.) Stir it around until thoroughly mixed and beginning to bubble. Slowly add whole milk, stirring constantly until it is a creamy consistency. Too much milk and you have “race-horse” gravy; too little milk and you have a thick paste. Let it bubble for a few minutes until the floury flavor is gone. Pepper well and pour over the meat upon serving. It is good accompanied by mashed potatoes, fresh spring onions, sliced tomatoes still warm from the garden, and the green beans I mentioned previously. If you must, some biscuits to soak up the extra gravy will be acceptable, though in my part of Oklahoma, Wonder bread would do.
That’s it. I need to go and take a statin now.