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Lard - Fatback or Leaf
Hauntingly delicious food, the kind that lingers in memory for generations, has a secret. Whether it’s the special flakiness of a pie crust, the richness of a Chinese almond cookie, or the smooth, rich texture of a tamale, the secret is lard. For most of the last century lard was avoided, believed to be a hazard to both flavor and health. Recent trends in “paleo” and low-carb-high-fat diets are ushering in lard’s return to home and fine restaurant kitchens. Pure high quality lard is not hydrogenated and should not be bought in boxes resembling bricks.Today’s lard renaissance relies on product rendered from free range animals and a simple rendering process. Mexican food enthusiasts benefit from the lard resurgence. Lard yields tastier, velvety smooth sauces or "salsas", superior crispness in fried foods and incomparable flakiness in baked goods. Other pluses of pure lard are, a reasonably high smoke point (370° F), lower omega-6 fatty acids (considered less desirable), and higher omega-3 fatty acids (considerable desirable).
Excellent lard is easily rendered at home, purchased from butchers, or ordered online. The key is to buy pure lard that is not processed beyond its rendering. The lard sold in most supermarkets is processed to create a long shelf life and is part of how lard got a bad reputation for taste. Processed or commercial lard is not only lacking in flavor; but it is frequently hydrogenated as well. Hydrogenation creates trans fats, largely accepted as the most unhealthy of fats.
In authentic Mexican cooking the two most commonly used lards for rendering are, leaf lard and fatback. Leaf lard is used to render lard for baking or making pastries such as buñuelos, and churros. Leaf lard is the precious fat that surrounds the kidneys and loin of a hog. Leaf lard renders to a soft white semi-solid fat, without any pork flavor.
The lard rendered from fatback (as it sounds this fat comes from the pig’s back) is regularly used for basic frying, for sauces, and for making dough or “masa”. It has a subtle pork flavor.
Rendering takes time, but is not hard and is the same process for either leaf lard or fatback.
1 pound unsalted pork fat (no skin), cut into small half inch squares, or ground
1/4 cup water
(renders approximately one pint)
Large stockpot or Dutch oven
Large mesh strainer
Heat proof bowl, preferably with spout for pouring
Storage containers for rendered lard
1. Place pot, with water, on a low to medium burner. Add pork fat to pot
2. When pot contents are half liquid and half solid, use ladle to strain and remove some of the rendered lard into a heatproof bowl. (Return any solids back to pot.)
3. Continue process until only a small amount of dry solids (crackling or “chicharrones”) remain in the pot.
4. After a cooling period of ten minutes, transfer lard into storage containers. May be refrigerated indefinitely.
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