Monday, November 8, 2010

Love, Peace, and Bacon Grease

Every Old Lady At Heart should have a jar or butter tub full of bacon grease at her disposal. Granted, it's not the healthiest substance in the world, but it makes a heavenly addition in your cooking every once in a while. Sounds disgusting in it's own right, but let's be honest, Shortening, which is used in a lot of the same applications as bacon grease, is in most ways worse for you and totally unnatural. So when making a choice between the lesser of two evils, bacon grease wins hands down. You can substitute bacon grease for just about anything savory that you would put shortening or oil in: biscuits, fried potatoes, potato cakes, hoe cakes,  green beans, corn bread, tortillas, and I've even heard of people using it in their cookies....bacon chocolate chip anyone?

Since tortillas are probably one of the easiest things you can make from scratch, I will dedicate this blog to all of those, like me, who are short on time, but still want to experience great tasting, homemade food. For the perfect tortilla all you need is some flour, shortening or bacon grease (Hey, I never said they are the healthiest things you can make, did I?), a little bit of salt and water. I always use bacon grease in my flour tortillas because it gives it a nice smoky flavor. Plus shortening has a lot of hydrogenated oils which I try to stay away from. What exactly is wrong with hydrogenated fats? Hydrogenation is the result of a reaction between added hydrogen molecules to unsaturated, fatty liquids in the presence of a catalyst in turn creating a saturated fat. This turns the oil into a semi-solid form at room temperature and increases its shelf-life. Bacon grease is 40% saturated fat and 114 calories per tablespoon, and shortening is pretty much the same caloric-wise. So if you suffer from high cholesterol, you may want to make your tortillas with canola  or olive oil. If not, bring on the bacon!

My grandma (and this goes for me now that I am a 'seasoned' tortilla maker) never measures ingredients when making tortillas, once you do it long enough (which for me it was about a half-dozen times), you can just "feel" when the dough is perfect. So of course when I asked her for her recipe she just laughed at I took to the Internet and found a recipe and then tweaked it to my liking. Here it is:

Disclaimer: Everything I said about going topless in the kitchen is null and void when working with bacon! Maximize clothing articles until you obtain the dripping from your bacon, then, when it is safe, discard clothing and proceed. :)

Flour Tortilla Ingredients
3 Cups flour
1/3 Cup bacon grease
1 Tbsp salt
1 Cup warm water

Pretty straight forward right?  So tell me, why do tortillas you buy at the store have a paragraph worth of ingredients? Yes, that''s because store bought tortillas suck; once you have had a homemade tortilla you will concur, trust me! Plus it's way cheaper, and you are recycling (bacon grease that you would have thrown away in the past) at the same time. So, next time you make BLT's, save the bacon grease, no need to filter out the bits in the grease either, that's just extra flavor! Not a fan of bacon (Don't worry, I won't judge)?  Just use shortening or oil, you will get the same great texture without the added bacon flavor.

So let's get started with our easy flour tortillas: Mix your flour and salt in a medium sized bowl, just use your hand and stir everything around. Next add your bacon grease and water, and mix with your hands (This is a great activity if you have kiddies at home!) After everything is mixed and sticky, begin to knead the dough (see video below). Trying to cut overhead costs, I was my own cameraman for this video, notice the one-handed kneading. Normally I would use the other hand to steady the bowl for reasons you will be able to note from this video. Not normally that slow or awkward, haha!

Your dough should be soft and squishy, easy to knead, but not sticking to your fingers after a minute or so of kneading. If your dough is too sticky add a little more flour, if it's too stiff, add more water. Knead until your dough isn't lumpy and you can no longer see streaks or blotches of grease. Then put some plastic wrap over it and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes (this time isn't crucial, so if you are making dinner or in the middle of something, your dough can wait). Now for the most important step! Pinch off an inch size piece of dough and knead it in one hand, 12 times, with your thumb and fingers (This is what makes your tortilla soft and chewy, see video below for demonstration). Then roll it in a ball and gently flatten that ball with your palms. Do this to the remainder of the dough, and just put the flattened balls in the same bowl you had the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Next, prepare a flat surface to do your rolling on. Sprinkle flour over surface and rub some on a rolling pin. My great grandma used to use a piece of a broom handle...but I will be using a rolling pin :). Take one of your tortilla dough pancakes put in in the middle of your floured surface and gently roll one way. Pick the tortilla up and rotate 90 degrees, roll the other way. The trick to getting pretty, round tortillas is a gentle roll and rotation after every roll in one direction. I haven't mastered this yet and still make crazy looking, oblong tortillas but they still taste really good and if I'm lucky, maybe one will look like the baby Jesus and I can make some money on Ebay :).
The tortilla above was the result of a mistake I made when trying to cut corners. Trying to save time, I rolled out one tortilla, and my skillet was taking forever to heat up, so I just kept rolling them out and stacking them -thinking the flour on the outside would prevent them from sticking until I could get them in the skillet- bad move! All my tortillas stuck together when the bacon grease began to seep and soak up the flour. Whoops, now I had a tortilla layer cake who's layers would not be dismantled. What a mess, not wanting to roll them out again I tried salvaging a few, and the above picture was one of those I managed to save. Lesson learned! Be patient and do one at a time, or stack them between wax paper.

While you are rolling out your dough, heat a comal (Flat cast iron skillet used in Mexico), or just a regular cast iron works fine too -This is what I use). If you don't own either, any old skillet will do. Once you have your first tortilla rolled out, throw it on the skillet. Flip when the bottom turns from translucent to white and little tan marks start to form. While you are waiting to flip your tortilla you can start rolling out the next one.  Wrap finished tortillas in a towel or tortilla warmer. Now you can crack the top on your favorite Mexican beer and enjoy!
So there you go, easy right? Your dinner guest's eyes will be rolling back into their heads. Now all you need is some Mexican rice and some authentic frijoles and your life will be complete. That blog will be coming soon!


  1. candie i need to join you when u make tortillas. ill make the mexican rice and frijoles, i trust that you will fall in love with my cooking!

    Alex G

  2. No joke, I see Jesus in your tortilla! Mine usually come out shaped like squares and sometimes like continents. Thanks for the tutorial, I can't wait to try them with the bacon grease.

  3. I think bacon grease is a healthy fat if you start with all natural bacon (with no nitrates).

    Much better for you than shortening or margarine.

    Eat more butter!

  4. Love this recipe. Gunna try it soon!