A big refreshing bowl of salad is a great dinner in the heat of summer. Too veggie, you say? No worries, there is a happy meaty answer to that: Bacon ends. Yep, contemplate that. I did my own contemplating when I spied a bag of bacon ends for the first time at the farmers market and had to examine them. The bag was hefty, lumpy, and thick with triangular hunks of bacon jumbled in vacuum-packed togetherness. It was bacon indeed, but not the typical neatly fanned slices I usually buy in the deli department. After asking a few questions, I learned that when those tidy pre-sliced bacon packages are created, all of the irregular hunks and ends are discarded in order to produce supermarket-packaged perfection. I knew I was onto something revelatory, so I snagged a package. Now I am here to tell you that you want those ends. They are veritable chunks of heaven for bacon lovers, evoking salty pork-induced delirium.
I find the best way to cook bacon ends is in the oven or on a grill. While the ends cook, their fat renders, leaving behind crispy chunks of meaty bacon you can sink your teeth into. Honestly, they are addictively good. The danger is gobbling them all up in one go (not recommendable, by the way – just saying). So try to exert some restraint (after taste testing a few pieces, of course, as any cook should), and add them to salads, pasta, eggs – goodness, wherever you want your bacon. I like the salad option, as the fresh vegetables and leafy lettuce nicely balance out the hunks of salty meat. I call it a deconstructed BLT in a bowl and toss it with homemade croutons, brushed with the rendered bacon fat and toasted on the grill. Got your attention, right?
As for finding these ends, ask your butcher or the nice people in your supermarket’s meat department if they have a stash. You can be sure they know exactly what you are asking about – they just might not want to share.
BLT Salad with Bacon Ends and Avocado
Serves 4 as a main course salad
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Grilling Time: 30 minutes
1 1/2 to 2 pounds bacon ends, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups coarsely torn bite-size pieces of country or sourdough bread
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large head lettuce, leaves washed and torn into bite-size pieces
4 small vine ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges
Corn kernels cut from one ear of corn
1 large Hass avocado, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1. Prepare the grill for indirect medium heat (about 400°F for a gas grill). Trim any excess fat from the bacon ends. Cut the ends into 1 inch chunks and arrange on a grill rack (or grate) set over a grill pan to capture the rendered fat. Grill until the fat is rendered and the ends are crispy golden, about 25 minutes. (You can do this in the oven with a broiler pan, if you like.) Transfer the ends to a plate.
2. Toss the bread in the rendered fat. Spread the bread on a grill pan or the grates and grill until golden and crisp, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.
3. Make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
4. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add the bacon, half of the croutons and dressing to your taste and toss to combine. Garnish with the remaining croutons and serve with any remaining dressing.