If I were a betting woman, pork bellies would likely be my game.

Pork belly futures were a pioneering financial instrument when they were introduced in 1961 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It made sense then. The bellies of hogs butchered in fall and winter were generally frozen and set aside to be used to make bacon during the summers when the demand for it soared (think BLT sandwiches for dinner and large weekend family gatherings that required the gang be fed a big breakfast on Sunday mornings). Traders hedged against inflation by locking the price of the belly through a futures contract (a contract for assets bought at agreed-upon prices but delivered and paid for later). Pork belly futures became a way to gauge consumer food inflation more generally, and they were famously featured in the 1983 Eddie Murphy comedy “Trading Places.”

Pour the egg mixture into the pie shell after you’ve filled it with greens, bacon and goat cheese. Photo by Owen Rudalevige

Since the late 1980s, though, the bacon business has changed, with consumers eating more pork year-round, requiring less need for cold storage, consequently, less need to hedge the frozen meat for sale in summertime. Because of the declining popularity of pork bellies on trading platforms and bacon’s growing year-round availability, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange halted trading in 2011.

I don’t pay too much attention to the financial markets, other than noticing my husband’s mood when our retirement accounts fluctuate. But I do know bacon from the perspective of cooking. And given my reducetarian tendencies, I make the most of any bacon that makes its way into my kitchen, whether it cost me $12 per pound because it was sustainably reared and seasonally cured by a local farmer, or because my husband’s hedged his bets for a future BLT and grabbed the BOGO deal at Shaw’s.

In fact, I’ve tested a variety of cooking methods to ascertain the most sustainable way to cook and use bacon and its byproduct, bacon grease. My test results can be summed up in two simple phrases:

  1. Skip the skillet (and the spattering bacon grease burns on your forearms).
  2. Freeze the fat.

Baking bacon in a 325-degree oven on a rimmed sheet for 25-30 minutes gives you flat, uniformly cooked pieces of bacon that have a commanding presence on the plate so that a two-piece portion both looks and feels satisfying. For chewier bacon, line the tray with parchment before laying down the raw bacon on top of it. For crispier bacon, fit a cooling rack inside the tray and place the raw bacon on it before sliding it into the oven. If you only need a few pieces, use a toaster oven. A whole pound of thick-cut bacon fits nicely onto a 11- by 17-inch baking sheet.

When the bacon is cooked, drain off the hot grease to use in any recipe that calls for a more flavorful fat. One note of caution, though, is that bacon is often cured with salt, so if you are using bacon grease as a one-to-one substitute, say in a corn bread recipe, make sure to adjust the actual salt in the recipe. While you may have had a grandma who stored her bacon grease in an old coffee can under the sink, food safety practices these days recommend that you refrigerate – or better yet – freeze it. I pour mine into an ice cube tray for convenient portioning.

Baking bacon at this temperature also means that the bacon grease does not burn. The smoke point of bacon grease is 325 degrees. Also referred to as the burning point, the smoke point is the temperature at which an oil or fat begins to produce a continuous bluish smoke. Pushed above the smoke point, a fat starts to break down, releasing free radicals and a substance called acrolein, the chemical that gives burnt foods their acrid flavor and aroma. Once bacon fat is laced with acrolein, you’re going to want to use it for sauteing vegetables or making a savory pie crust. And that would be a crying shame, not to mention a less than sustainable eating situation.

When you bake bacon, as opposed to frying it, you get a straight, even slice. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Bacon, Greens and Goat Cheese Quiche
I am not one to tell anyone who has a tried and true all-butter pie crust to change it up and use my crust recipe. But I will tell you that if you substitute half of the butter called for in your recipe with frozen 1/2-inch pieces of bacon fat and blind bake the crust to use in this quiche recipe, you will thank me.

Make one (9-inch) quiche

1 single-crust pie dough, blind baked
1 tablespoon bacon grease
1/4 cup chopped onion, shallot or scallion
2 cups chopped spinach, kale, chard or radish leaves
1/4 cup chopped crispy bacon
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the bacon grease. Add the onion, shallot or scallion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the greens and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat. In a large measuring cup, whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper. Add the milk and cream and whisk well. Spread the greens mixture evenly over the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle the bacon and goat cheese over the greens. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the filling.

Bake the quiche until the edges are set but the quiche still jiggles a little in the center, 45 to 55 minutes. (If the edges of the crust start to brown, cover with a ring of aluminum foil.) Cool the quiche at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: [email protected]


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