Level Up Your Salad Dressing With Umami-Packed Bacon Grease

It's a truth commonly known in the South that bacon grease makes everything taste better. Cornbread, biscuits, hash browns, potato salad, and even fried eggs take on umami-like qualities when bacon grease is added to the mix. So why can't this work with the salad? 

Before you scream "Sacrilege!" consider that there is quite a bit of historical context for combining the porky pleasures of bacon with the raw, crunchy salad. The classic French Lyonnaise salad uses a warm bacon vinaigrette to coat its Frisée greens, and for years the people of Appalachia have been serving up "Killed Lettuce," a recipe that wilts fresh-picked lettuce with a bath of hot bacon grease. If it's good enough for French and Appalachian cooks, it should be good enough for our average spinach salad.  

Why does bacon fat work so well in a vinaigrette? The smoky leftover fat from the bacon packs all of the umami-rich goodness that the cured pork product has. Melted and combined with other vinaigrette standbys, like oil, vinegar, mustard, and lemon juice, bacon grease forms an uber-savory backbone to your classic salad dressing. So how should you go about making your own version of this rich vinaigrette?   

The beauty of bacon fat vinaigrette

The base of your recipe should be a 1:1 ratio of melted bacon grease to vinegar. For this concoction, use delicate white wine or apple cider vinegar to balance the smoky lard, then add a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. 

At this point, you can also mix any other flavors you think would complement the vinaigrette well, like a teaspoon or two of honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar. If you'd like to up the oiliness without adding more bacon grease, you can add a glug or two of extra virgin olive oil to get the job done. 

Once you're happy with the flavor of your dressing, you can use it immediately or store it in the refrigerator for up to a week (just make sure to let it come to room temperature before using it again, as the bacon grease solidifies in the cold. It pairs well with chopped, crunchy iceberg salads, hearty kale-based salads, and earthy spinach-heavy salads. Next time you fry up a batch of bacon, save the grease for the salads of tomorrow.