In the June 5 New York Magazine, Rob Patronite asked me how I use the lard that’s always in my fridge. (Lard is very stable, unlike polyunsaturated oils, so it keeps well.)
Not often enough is the short answer. I use lard for baking, especially for biscuits and pie crusts, and last Christmas I found a very nice recipe for a dark and spicy Swedish ginger cookie made with lard, but I’m not a frequent baker. Lately my favorite desserts are panna cotta, ice cream, and very dark chocolate bark with almonds and dried cranberries, or whatever fruit I have handy.
Perhaps you’re not a baker, or the idea of making your morning egg in snowy lard turns you off. Never mind: you can get all of lard’s good fats (monounsaturated oleic acid, the same fat in olive oil, and antimicrobial saturated fats) and its abundant vitamin D from bacon, sausage, and pork chops, if that’s to your taste. If only they didn’t make sausages so lean these days! I met a sausage-maker recently who said she used lean ground pork and added only wine or water for moisture. Her sausages were not so much juicy as runny, and there was no fat to carry the flavor of her fine spices or the pork.
(My friend Stan Feder, proprietor of Simply Sausages, knows how to make a sausage with flavor and mouth-feel. Ask Jose Andres, the chef at Jaleo, and other fine Washington chefs who buy Stan’s sausages.)
The other night I made some delicious pork belly from Flying Pigs Farm, braised (loosely) according to a Molly Stevens recipe in red wine and beef stock. Belly is basically uncured bacon. When I bought it I could see it was mostly fat, with very little meat. I felt I had to let the braising liquid cool, allowing the obscene quantity of fat to rise, to skim off the excess. At dinner we hunted for the pink bits of meat rather than the succulent fatty bits I usually go for. The next day, I still had enough leftover belly fat to simmer a truckload of fresh cannellini from Bill Maxwell in Changewater, New Jersey. I approve of fat, but even for me there can be too much.
Now there’s some spare lard-cum-braising liquid in the fridge, but all I can think of is the wild salmon I got out of the freezer. (I try to eat all my wild Alaskan salmon before August, when I order the new-season catch from small boats, and I’ve got three half-salmon sides to go.)
My chef friend Christophe Hille, who just sold his share of A16 (a regional Italian restaurant in San Fransisco where they did all kinds of things with pork) to come back East (lucky us) said that the decadently rich pork belly is probably better cured.
Meanwhile, in the butcher aisle at a famous supermarket on the Upper West Side, I was delighted to see Corby Kummer’s NYT op-ed praising lard. Alas the lard for sale was the industrial kind: hydrogenated. They do that to make it more solid (the unsaturated fats in lard make it soft at room temperature) and to further extend its shelf-life, but hydrogenated lard is just as bad for you as any hydrogenated oil. Don’t buy it.