Monday, December 10, 2012
Lardass. The nickname from the film Stand By Me is about the lowest blow lard could get. When a word becomes a schoolyard taunt, you know there's no hope in its redemption. Often when I tell people about the lard we rendered a look of disgust crosses their face. Even if they don't actually know what lard really is, they know how the word is used and it's not positive.
But we beg to differ. When we bought our pig last year, we made a conscious choice to use as much of it as possible. We stopped short at offal, which are the organs, but we made sure to collect all of the fat to render down into lard.
Lard is, quite simply, pork fat. It's been cut and separated from any meat and rendered down into a golden liquid, strained, cooled to a white solid, and stored. When you cook bacon and you're left with that pan full of fat at the end, that's exactly what you've done. See? You've probably rendered lard and didn't even know it.
Every pig is surrounded by a layer of fat about an inch thick which is known as back fat. When they butchered our pig I asked for the back fat, so they cut it away from the skin and put it in a bag. I was careful to ask for the leaf lard as well, and asked them to keep it separate from the back fat. The leaf lard is a layer of fat that protects the organs and is the holy grail of fats. You might know that lard makes the best pie crust in the world, but limit yourself to leaf lard, and you might just have the best pie crust in the universe. Look for leaf lard by itself in the supermarket and you'll be disappointed. You'll only find "lard"–a mix of all the fats from hundreds of pigs. Leaf and back fat together, and worst of all, it's usually hydrogenated for some reason. Just for fun it seems.
So, if we're so excited about lard, yet our parents were told to expect to die of clogged arteries seconds after eating it, what's the big issue?
First off, about a hundred years ago, lard seemed like an antiquated notion, it was what people who had to eat the whole pig made with the fat, rather than wealthier people who could eat prime cuts. Second came a wonder product called Crisco. It was vegetable fat that, through the miracle process of hydrogenation, solidified and could tastelessly replace lard and the need to render it in your daily cooking. The third, and final nail in the coffin was the vilification of saturated fats which lard had, and the new industrial trans fats didn't.
So now, decades later, as we learn that all these vegetable fats and oils aren't living up to their promise of health, lard quietly makes a comeback–a delicious comeback.
We rendered ours down and strained it until only the delicious cracklings were left. I've actually never read exactly what they are, but my guess is that they're the cellular structure of the fat. What I do know is that with a pinch of salt, they're crazy decadent.
We use our lard for all frying. It's much more stable and handles heat better than vegetable oils.
We don't recommend using supermarket lard in everything you eat, however, if you're having a pig butchered, or can source fresh fat to render yourself from a good, naturally raised pig, do it. It's the best thing that'll happen to your cooking this year.