Words cannot express my love for lard, so this post clearly won’t do it justice. I’m not talking about that hydrogenated garbage that you can find in the baking aisle…
“During hydrogenation, fat molecules are pelted by hydrogen until their chemical structures change. Hydrogenation can make liquid fats solid at room temperature (that’s how we get Crisco) and gives lard extra stability so it won’t go rancid as quickly. Unfortunately, hydrogenation is also the source of unwholesome trans fats, which shoot extra LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) into your arteries while batting away the other, good cholesterol.”
-Pete Wells for Food & Wine Magazine
My husband was first introduced to lard on trips to Taiwan where he would observe his grandmother scooping a delicate white substance from a container that would spend only a minute outside of the refrigerator; imagine his horror when American grocery store clerks directed him to the unrefrigerated baking aisle to find lard.
I balked at the idea of using lard when my husband first suggested it, because-you know- lard. But he had been seduced by yet another Serious Eats article and was pining for authentic tortillas. Reading up on this misunderstood fat, I was shocked to learn that it is actually healthier than butter, and high in Vitamin D as well as the monounsaturated fat oleic acid (the good cholesterol).
Lard is the rendered fat of a pig. Gastropod, my favorite podcast, recently did an episode on our tasty friend, the pig (check out The Whole Hog).
I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to get my hands on fat; conventional supermarkets think that I’m crazy to ask for it, and the one small butcher near us does not get whole pigs regularly. I was elated to find a source when a facebook friend recently posted about the sale of meat from his own pigs (which are grass-fed and drug-free to boot!).
If you do manage to get your hands on enough fat (2.5 pounds will yield a half gallon of lard), then I highly suggest that you give rendering a try. It can be done in a slow cooker, in the oven, or on the stovetop. I personally favor the latter because it is the quickest (less than an hour), and the “cracklins” (leftover fried bits that feel like bacon bits) are ready to eat immediately after (whereas other methods have required further drying/frying).
If you are not yet convinced (barring kosher or halal eating practices), allow me give you a few more reasons to render your own lard and incorporate it into your cooking:
1. Soft and pliable tortillas
A soft tortilla needs to be soft enough to roll, but strong enough to hold all of the ingredients in. I believe that the lard tortilla achieves the best balance of these qualities.
Here’s the recipe (Serious Eats) that inspired Jimmy to beg for lard in the first place.
2. “The Best Dinner Rolls of Your life”
I made this dinner roll recipe (The Amateur Gourmet) for our last Thanksgiving and they were a hit! No one will question your decision to use lard (because you’re using the good stuff, anyways, right?) after they take a bite of these heavenly buns!
3. Unbeatable crust for pot pie, quiche, and pies
The mouth-feel and satisfaction of eating lard-based crust is heavenly. I simply refuse to make crusted-dishes without it, now. If you do use lard for a pie crust, make sure that you use leaf-lard, which is derived from the neutral-tasting fats found around the kidney… otherwise, you end up with a slight porky flavor in your sweet desserts!
I’ve found this recipe/tutorial from The Pioneer Woman to be very instructive.