By Kara Kimbrough
Elvis has been on my mind this week. But not for the normal reasons, like hearing one of his songs or seeing footage online of a press conference or concert at which the Mississippi native displayed his enduring charisma and talent. No, I thought about his penchant for consuming a pound of fried bacon each day. I was reminded of this after reading bacon prices have risen nearly 19 percent, higher than almost any other supermarket item. Tupelo’s favorite son was wealthy, but I wonder if Elvis would have changed his diet as prices of his favorite food group soar.
Here's how I gained the inside scoop on Elvis’ penchant for bacon. An interview several years ago with his long-time cook, Mary Jenkins, revealed lots of unknown tidbits. For starters, he started his day with fried (not baked) biscuits, four scrambled eggs, freshly squeezed orange juice and a pile of bacon.
Any leftover bacon was used to make one of his favorite sandwiches, a thick BLT. Since his death in 1977, the strangeness of Presley’s palate has become legendary. Only Jenkins, someone he considered a dear friend, knew the truth.
''It's not true that Elvis liked burnt bacon sandwiches,” she said. “He just liked his bacon very crisp. And he didn’t eat at much as everyone said. But he did like his food fried and real rich.”
While Presley stuck to simple fare, it hit me that so many delicious dishes contain bacon. I dearly love the thin (and thick cut) slices of pork. Besides Elvis’ BLT, some of my favorites made with bacon include:
• Baked beans topped with plenty of bacon slices
• Bacon-wrapped Little Smokies rolled in brown sugar and cooked to a crispy goodness
• Wedge salad highlighted with thick chunks of bacon
• Plain burgers transformed with crispy bacon
I could go on, but you get the point. Almost everything is better with bacon. And, many favorite dishes are taken to another level with the addition of bacon grease. In fact, a dish I made for Easter dinner last Sunday, deluxe hash brown bake, contains a quarter-cup of the not-so-healthy ingredient. Bacon grease is essential to moistening the dish loaded with several meats, cheeses and potatoes. Plus, the taste is other-worldly; yes, it’s that good.
So there you have it. I won’t be giving up bacon any time soon. Bacon freezes well, so I’m stocking up now and placing several packs in the freezer in anticipation of even higher prices. I saved one package from the freezer to make a New Orleans-inspired dish given to me by a Gulf Coast friend.
Grillades (pronounced “gree-odds) and grits is filled with “everything good,” including a half cup of bacon grease. It looks like a complicated recipe but comes together quickly. However, it needs to simmer at least two hours before serving.
Bacon grease may not be the healthiest ingredient, but as my Coast friend says, “You only live once; might as well enjoy great food while we’re here.” I agree.
Gulf Coast Grillades and Grits
Ingredients for grillades:
4 pounds beef top round steak, cut into 3-inch strips, ½ inch wide
1-1/2 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s seasoning (more to taste)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bacon grease
1-1/2 cup onion, chopped
3 ribs celery chopped
1-1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups beef stock (I use low sodium)
14.5-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt (to taste)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
Ingredients for grits:
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup old-fashioned grits
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1-1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper (to taste)
To make grillades:
Put the creole seasoning and flour in a large plastic bag. Add the strips of meat into the bag and shake, making sure to coat every piece with the flour mixture.
In a large Dutch oven on low heat, add the bacon grease. Working in batches, brown the meat. Do not crowd the pan. Set the browned meat aside. Add onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic to the Dutch oven. Sauté until tender, about four minutes.
Next, add the beef stock, tomatoes, beef stock, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Bring everything to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the thyme and taste to adjust the seasonings. Simmer another 15 minutes, take it off the heat and then stir in the parsley.
Garnish with a sprinkle of green onions. Salt and pepper to taste.
To make cheese grits:
Bring the water to a boil. Add the salt. Stir in the grits. Reduce heat to low and let the grits simmer for 20 minutes or until they are soft. Add the butter and ground mustard. Stir in the cheese. When it is fully incorporated, add the Worcestershire sauce and heavy cream. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and black pepper if desired.
To serve: add a serving of grits to each plate and top with grillades.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at email@example.com.