My grandmother, Helen Getz, does not waste words and she certainly does not waste bacon. Food in her world is "good" or "double good" if she really likes something. Her cooking is as practical as it is delicious -- a cuisine of thickened sauces, vinegar dressings and flaky pies.
I grew up eating my grandmother's salads with hot bacon dressing. She makes hers with escarole; my mother uses sweeter Napa cabbage (which, in retrospect, I have no idea how she found in our small town in Pennsylvania). Bacon dressings usually consist of crisp bacon, bacon fat and vinegar. But my grandmother’s is first thickened with flour, then loosened with not only vinegar but water, too. Then, when it all seems a little watered down and hopeless, you thicken it with egg, which creates a little magic in the dish –- concentrating the texture, amplifying the vinegar and whipping up a delicious foil for the salty bacon.
Helen Getz’s Napa Cabbage with Hot Bacon Dressing
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 Napa cabbage, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (you’ll need 6 to 8 cups)
- 8 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/ 4-inch lardons
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
1. Place the cabbage in a large mixing bowl. Add the bacon to a medium sauté pan and set over medium heat. Render the bacon fat and brown the bacon, adjusting the heat as needed. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towel, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat (approximate, don’t measure) from the pan.
2. Set the pan over medium low heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in the vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Season with the salt. Gradually – and slowly! – whisk this mixture into the egg.
3. Sprinkle the bacon on the cabbage, then pour 3/4 of the dressing over the cabbage and toss to mix. Add more dressing as desired (I like a fair amount). Serve with grilled pork chops, roasted potatoes and beer.