Give Thanks to the Lard!

Depending on the ingredients used, a quiche becomes a complete, satisfying meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner. When I make a quiche, pie or galette, I usually use convenient refrigerated or frozen dough bought from the grocery store. While contemplating quiche on a recent day off, I didn’t have prepared pie crust or pastry, and the homebody in me did not feel like leaving the house.

But I did have some bacon grease. Should I use it for pie crust?

I recently started saving bacon grease in a jar after cooking bacon – like my mother and father and the generations before them did in their Southern kitchens – without any concrete plan for future use. My parents poured leftover bacon grease into an empty coffee can which they stored in a cabinet above the stove (they still do). My family occasionally used bacon fat in canned green beans or other vegetables to give them more flavor – something that doesn’t appeal to me now as an adult. As a teenager, I reserved a few spoonfuls of bacon grease in the skillet instead of usingbutter, margarine or vegetable oil to scramble my eggs for breakfast. We always saved more bacon grease than we actually used for cooking – perhaps because of the popular perception that lard is bad for you.

Up until a about 100 years century ago, lard was a popular source of fat for cooking and baking all over the world. In the last decade, trend-setting American chefs began using lard in their recipes (fat rendered from pigs). What changed?

Growing up I remember being told that animal fat was bad for me.  When I sacked groceries in a part time job as a teenager, I remember the revulsion I felt when I saw sticks of lard in the grocery baskets of customers and judged them as unhealthy, irresponsible and uneducated for their food choices. My family bought tubs of margarine like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!® to spread on cornbread, biscuits, rolls or toast because we knew better. But did we?

Over 100 years ago, a couple of events triggered the rise of margarine and vegetable shortening. Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, a fictional portrayal of the terrible conditions and exploited lives of workers in the meat packing industries in the United States. One section of the book stands out:

They worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor…. their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,—sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

Gross! While The Jungle is a work of fiction, Sinclair’s journalism exposed dangerous working conditions that led to such incidents in the meat packing industries. Industrial production of meat in the early 20th C. certainly warranted closer inspection and regulation with stories like this. The public’s growing distrust of the meat packing industry presented an opportunity to the folks at Proctor and Gamble. When electric lights replaced oil-based lighting, the company’s market for cottonseed oil suffered. With the assistance of a German chemist in 1907, P&G began producing hydrogenated cottonseed oil (now known as Crisco) which looked and cooked like lard as a substitute. Clever marketing and white packaging led to claims that the “the stomach welcomes Crisco.” Later in the 1950s, scientists declared saturated fats found in animal fat caused heart disease – making lard even more unpopular in the public’s perception.

Bacon grease and lard got a bad wrap, but it turns out the trans fat in margarine and shortening (often found in baked foods) is the really bad fat that clogs our arteries, gives us high blood pressure and leads to poor cardiac health. The healthy unsaturated fats may be found in vegetable oils from olives, canola or corn, to name a few. Saturated fat and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat) are considered less healthy than unsaturated fats like that found in vegetable oils. Butter and lard contain 54% and 40% saturated fat, respectively, which makes lard a slightly better option than butter. Lard obtained from frying bacon contains no trans fat compared to store bought lard which can contain some partially hydrogenated fat to stabilize and prolong the product’s shelf life. After many years of use, I discovered that Pillsbury’s refrigerated pie crust contains partially hydrogenated lard (the bacon grease I saved had no partially hydrogenated trans fatty acids).

The experts rank fat sources from best to worst:

  1. Fats from plants (e.g. vegetables, nuts and seeds) and seafood
  2. Fats from animal sources (lard ranks better than butter because the latter contains more saturated fat).
  3. Fats from food factories (i.e., hydrogenated oils like Crisco and margarine)

I answered yes to the question of whether to use my bacon grease for a pie crust for my quiche because bacon fat – lard – can be used in moderation in the diet.


This soufflé quiche baked fluffier and finished golden because I whipped the egg whites into peaks and later folded them with the egg yolks and cream.

But I am most proud of my pie crust. Making this pie crust was one of the easiest baked goods I’ve made. I made a pie crust from scratch for the first time in my life which turned out flaky and flavorful . . . . thanks to the lard!

Soufflé Quiche with Chicken, Bacon and Spinach

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

Pie Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup of rendered bacon grease (lard), refrigerated
  • 4 tbsp cold water

Quiche Filling:

  • 4 pieces of bacon
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 cup of cooked chicken, chopped (a pre-roasted chicken from the grocery works well here)
  • 2/3 cup cubed cheese (I used leftover cheddar and gruyere cheese)
  • 1 cup baby spinach, chopped
  • 6 eggs, divided into yolks and whites
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Mix flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add bacon grease. Use the curved side of a dough scraper to break up the fat into small pieces until flour mixture turns into small crumbs and fat is dispersed throughout. Add 1 tbsp of water at a time, mixing thoroughly until blended. Knead dough for a few minutes and form into a ball. Cool for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
  2. Fry bacon in an iron skillet. Cool and drain bacon slices on paper towels.
  3. Reserve 1/2 tbsp of bacon grease in skillet to sautée onions. Add onion and herbs to skillet and cook until softened. Set aside and wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  5. Roll the ball of dough into a circular sheet on a floured surface with a roller. Gently lift the sheet of dough into the cast iron skillet ensuring that dough rising high enough on the sides of the pan.
  6. Add chicken, bacon, onion, cheese and spinach in that order to the skillet.
  7. In a mixer, use the wire whisk attachment to whip egg whites into soft peaks. Meanwhile, scramble egg yolks with heavy cream, salt and pepper. Fold yolk and cream mixture into egg whites with a small spatula until just mixed. Overmixing will reduce volume.
  8. Pour egg mixture into the skillet over all ingredients. Bake in oven for 30 minutes until the top of the quiche is golden brown.
  9. Remove from oven. Allow to cool for 5-7 minutes before serving.

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