Rendering bacon is a very minor step in the scope of most recipes. One of those things that is just supposed to happen while cooking and the direction always seems to pass with very little discussion. Being a person who cares deeply for bacon the way I do, I thought it important to offer that discussion.
*Please note we’re talking about chopped bacon that is used in the base of a recipe here, such as Easy Peasy Bacon Rigatoni, not strips of bacon to serve with your eggs. Those are a completely different story.
What exactly are you trying to accomplish when rendering bacon? Most people think it’s all about browning the bacon, but that is only half the story. Besides coloring the bacon, rendering should help draw all of that delicious fat out of the bacon make it available for cooking and leave the bacon crisp.
If bacon browns too quickly, it becomes much more difficult for that luscious fat to escape, leaving sub par bacon bits in your favorite dish. Rendering typically goes wrong in one of two ways, it is done in a dry pan, or the heat is too high. Many people make the mistake of not adding fat to bacon when cooking it. In a dry pan, the bacon sears and browns only on the exterior, leaving a relatively large amount of fat trapped inside each piece bacon. Which means chewy bits and not nearly enough fat to properly saute those onions or garlic in the next step. If you are bold enough to cook your bacon- or pancetta- in (gasp!) fat, like olive oil, beware your heat. If the heat gets too high the bacon will fry, leaving you with the same rubbery, greasy bacon bits as before.
The solution? Properly browned bacon starts with water. Makes sense, right?
When a recipe directs to render chopped bacon, place the bacon in the pan and add water until it is just covered. Turn the heat to high and wait for the water to boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Continue cooking until all of the water has evaporated and the bacon begins to sizzle in its own fat (you see, the fat came out of the bacon while it was simmering, and since it is not yet browned, it will continue to render as it cooks). Continue cooking the bacon, stirring often until it is well browned. Then proceed with the recipe as directed.