Sunday, 8 July 2012

For the love of lard


Once every few months or so, my flat fills up with the heavenly aroma of of pork fat simmering away on top of the stove, releasing its lovely golden liquid, and a couple of hours later, my fridge gets two new jars of freshly-rendered creamy, snowy lard.

I see you recoiling in horror already, trying to wash off all dirty thoughts and images of that four-letter white grease, stroking and reassuring your one-size-too-small pair of jeans that you have not given in to the evils of lard.

But fat is good for you, especially the natural, saturated fats that I see some of my friends try to peel or dab off. The doctors have finally come to realise it, but our grannies and their grannies have been eating and cooking with saturated fats all along and staying healthy, the curious French paradox isn't so confusing at all if you really think about it. It's about eating food that came from the land, fuel that came from rendering the fat of an animal, and that is by far more healthy than any "edible food-like substance" made by subjecting plants to industrial chemical processes to produce "healthier" vegetable oils like the rather vile but oh-so-popular rapeseed oil right now. The main unrefined plant oils that have been used traditionally in cooking, and hence you should be using, come from the olive, groundnut, palm, and coconut, and even then, I would save that precious bottle of extra virgin olive oil for a finishing drizzle as its delicate monounsaturated fats turn rancid at higher temperatures. The rest I love for cooking with, especially the previously vilified coconut, though I must say I have a special place in my heart for good, old-fashioned lard.
It's always been the granny fat of choice in Europe, South America, the Phillipines, and of course, the China. Even the Italians and Spanish, better known for the olive oils, have a deep appreciation for this fat in their delicious charcuteries. Really, if you had pigs, you would have had lard, and you had food cooked in lard. Before the low-fat health fads of the 70s, people ate it without guilt, and it seems it's finally gotten its good name back. It is in fact high in the same monounsaturated fats we celebrate olive oil for, though you should hopefully by now have gotten rid of your fear of saturated fat. Facts and figures aside to convince your head that all things fatty are well and lovely, you only have to listen to your heart to give that low-fat yogurt a toss. Healthy food is not only about food that nourishes the body, but the soul, and soul food has got to taste good.

Is there any other reason why my mum's homestyle cabbage tastes so fabulous and no there is no msg in it; why pie crust made with lard is so especially flaky and fragrant; why the best hokkien prawn mee is fried in lard and mee pok is finished with a flourish of golden crackling; why the meltingly soft layer of fat in slow-cooked pork belly is so irresistably unctuous? Scientists have even found fat to be the sixth taste. It was groundbreaking when they discovered umami, but it seems pretty duh to me about the fat. Fresh bread is lovely, but fresh bread slathered with  butter is another thing altogether. The same applies for when you finish a fresh salad or pasta with a glug of olive oil.

But back to lard. The only thing I would caution about lard, is to make sure you render it from fat that comes from a happy healthy pig. A factory-farmed pig cramped in a cage and pumped with antibiotics isn't going to give you the same nutrients, or from my cuckoo new-agey point of view, the same life-giving force or qi.

HOW TO RENDER LARD
Ingredients
1 kg of fat from a happy pig*
A little water

*First, find a good source of pastured pig, either from the farmer's market, or from a butcher you trust. I firmly believe a good relationship with your butcher is as important as a good relationship with your hairdresser, so make friends, shower them with love, and add them on twitter. You often can get bones and bits for peanuts if you're on good terms with your butcher/ are buying a ton of meat anyway. Re: fat, I just get normal back fat. If you want perfectly snow-white lard, you should try to get leaf lard which comes from around the pig's kidney.

Method
1. Chop up the fat into small pieces.
2. Add enough water to cover the base of a heavy-bottomed pot. The water prevents the fat from burning before it starts to melt. Add the chopped fat and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
3. After about an hour, the water will evaporate and the fat will be melted, and later, the solids (white crackling) will start to sink. You can then strain at this stage and use the more or less odourless flavourless lard for baking or anytime you want a neutral cooking oil. Then let the rest of the crackling continue to go until brown and crispy and then strain again, using that savoury lard for flavourful frying.
4. Keep the cracklings, delicious salted and sprinkled over salads, or noodles (bak chor mee!) and pour the strained fat into jars. When cooled, it will become a soft creamy semi-solid, the first batch whiter than the second one. It will keep in the fridge for about 2 months, or freeze for probably a year.

CHEAT TIP
Sometimes when I make homemade stock, especially plain ones with nothing added at all, I just let the stock chill overnight and scoop out the top layer of fat. If that's a pork stock, that's lard. And if it's a chicken stock, that chicken fat is just as delicious for cooking with. This is of course not the large-batch lard described above, but a lovely tip anyway in case you're very unwisely thinking of discarding that fat.

I've seen wonderful blog posts for doing in the slowcooker/crockpot, or in the oven, with step-by-step photos, so you might want to give those a read too. Do it whichever way you choose to do, but no longer live in fear of the dreaded hog grease.


For more ramblings on how to eat, see here.

44 comments:

  1. Hear! Hear! All hail to the pork lard!

    All these low-fat, tasteless oil just doesn't do the tricks when it comes to giving food the proper flavour. And not forgetting the notorious Char Kway Teow , which without the pork lard and crispy pork bits just aren't the same.

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    1. yes char kway teow! and fried carrot cake! and the hokkien mee and bak chor mee as mentioned!

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  2. I made fried chicken with lard 25+ years ago and never used lard again. No reason, just didn't. But I'm going to, and that's a promise you can take to the bank.

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    1. I am so glad I've made you return to your lard-fried chicken. It apparently makes for the best crispy chicken, and is in fact healthier as its ability to go to high temperature means the chicken absorbs less grease, and really, just tastes perfectly crisp. see here: http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/lard-the-new-health-food

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  3. Thanks for the lesson in lard! I was just thinking about it yesterday because I was making tamale filling, which is traditionally made with lard, and I wasn't sure what to do---now I know, get (or make) some lard!

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  4. Shu Han, I don't know what to start with... Thank you thousand times for talking about what has become almost taboo and what is an extraordinary food product.
    It's so easy to be influenced by what the health authorities say, the doctors etc.. The same people change their opinion every five years and give a new, completely different advice.
    I cannot have fatty dishes I love as often as I would like (or rather as I could when I was younger and had a better metabolism), but I don't eliminate them and am proud that I have never bought margarine in my life and love lard, duck fat and good smoked fatty bacon...
    Congratulations for this wonderful post! I totally agree with everything you say and now you have motivated me to test one of my grandmother's lard tricks in cake baking and of course post about it!

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    1. Aw, sissi you are so very welcome, I just feel like it's a topic that needs to be brought to attention. It's so frustrating that people have gotten scared of what's natural and good for them! Good on you that you've never succumbed to margarine, especially during that period of time when it was so popularly touted as a healthier alternative! please do blog about the cake baking with lard, I'd love to read about that.

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  5. Fabulous post, and so true. Last week someone served me Jacques Pepin's apple tart, the crust of which is made with lard and so is gorgeously flaky perfection. I have never rendered my own lard, but I am now on a butchery kick and foresee excessive quantities of pork (and pork fat) in my future. (Nath the butcher is my hero.) Also -- good tip on the chicken fat. I've never cooked with the chicken fat from my stocks but will try now.

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    1. I was reading about your amazing butchery experience, and have no doubt you'l be able to render your own lard, it's pretty much just letting it boil away. I haven't met nath before, but I know everybody loves him, I've linked up to matts the butchers form barbecoa, I've met them before and they're awesome too, very passionate about their craft. cooking with chicken fat is yummy, they have more of a flavour than lard, which tastes actually pretty neutral.

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    2. Does Nath the Butcher have a web-site or is he too busy butcherin', because to hear you all talking about him, he seems pretty awesome. And with a name like that! It just amps up the awesomeness!!

      It's funny that when I was growing up here in the States that lard was so prevalent in our food and as a nation (and myself personally)we were a lot thinner. Hmmm. Lard has been much maligned, it seems.

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  6. I'm sold on lard! Sugar's the new bad guy and fat is making a comeback!
    Didn't know much about lard specifically, but have been embracing butter and duck and goose fat all my life... and then there's the bread fried in bacon fat while camping... so I guess I was a perfect candidate for the lard proposition!!! Will start searching for a proper twitter-happy pig-loving butcher asap! :-)

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    1. Ah, the french definitely had it right with the butter and goose fat! I guess it's just more in the chinese culture to use lard more, milk/cream was never used that much in our food, hence no such thing as butter and cheese, traditionally at least. but whatever type of fat it is, I believe as long as it's natural and comes from a good source, it will be good for you! (hah, unfortuantely, not many butchers are on twitter huh)

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  7. Oh I remember growing up, very few dishes my Mom cooked required lard. I do enjoyed fried lard (I know I know it's fat on fat), the crunchiness and aroma gets me every time. My favorite Viet noodle shop at Houston serves their noodle soup with some fried lard sprinkled on top, Oh My Lord it's heaven!

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    1. Oh it reminds me of bak chor mee, that sprinke of lard really brings things to an entirely new level!

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  8. A great post. I do like to cook with lard and have no idea why it isn't more popular still in this country. The French love their goose fat and the Italians have lardo. I think we need to stop buying all these fat substitutes and get back to the real stuff!

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  9. My dad loves lard but my mom doesn't let him eat it. "You're going to die of a heart attack!" she screams. End of argument. Haha. It'll be interesting to see if she eases up as popular opinion about lard changes.

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    1. You should let your mum read this post! Or your dad, so he can wave it smugly in front of your mum haha.

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  10. I agree that when people see the word fat or saturated fat they just run away from it, simply because it's been demonized without really knowing what it means. Coconut oil has saturated fat but it's really good for you. This is the first time I've seen an actual recipe for how to make lard, thanks for sharing!

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    1. It's been very unfairly demonised :( Coconut oil is absolutely delicious, and very good for your metabolism in fact, and healthy, being full of the lauric acids, of which the only other rich source is mother's milk! And to think people used to run away from coconut oil and milk because of the high sat fat content :(

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  11. So interesting, my grandmother made the BEST pie crusts and always used lard, I love knowing that it's not as bad for you as once thought! Thanks for the freedom to use a little lard now and a then! :)

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    1. Yes, more than just a little lard I would say ;)

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  12. Mmmmmmmmmm, lard... need I say more? :D

    If you want the world's best roast potatoes you've just gotta use a good, tasty fat... lard or goose fat... sooo good! I've made quite a bit of goose fat before from previous Christmases... never tried lard though. Thanks for the tips and "recipe" Shuhan (is it still a recipe if the final product isn't really something you'd consume in its raw immediate form? I guess so, right?)

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    1. Well you could consume it in its raw immediate form.. I saw a show with The Greedy Italians I think it was, or one of those Rick Stein travel cooking shows, where they just ate lard spread on toast, much like butter!

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  13. Ummmm cracklings... My dad makes an amazing fat thursday mille feuille with them!
    I usually cook with olive oil, nothing against pork lard. I guess OO is part of my Med heritage, but it's good to know there are alternatives!

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    1. oh my gosh what is this heavenly sounding a fat thursday mille feuille? Would love to see a post on that!
      I love olive oil too, I love the taste of it, and quite appreciate all the subtleties of flavour you get from diffferent countries, my friend and I were just discussing the differences between french and italian olive oils the other day, though I must say I have a strong preference for spanish. it's def yum! But I don't cook with it much, mostly just drizzled as the finishing touch to soup/salad/pasta, or really just with good bread dipped in it!

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  14. i have been avoiding lard for years because of the negative image associated to fat. But your post makes me want to use lard again. I think I'll feature a few recipes using lard in the near future!!
    PS even thought I don't use lard I love to use pork belly as an ingredient. The fat makes everything taste a lot better:)

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    1. Yes please I would love to see your recipes using lard! And yes, pork belly is by far one of my favourite cuts!

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  15. A very refreshing read, and it makes sense to enjoy (in moderation) natural animal fats rather than highly processed versions. Everyone gets so scared of fat which is so stupid, eat less, do more, then enjoy your lard, nom nom....

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    1. glad you enjoyed the read, it's definitely a controversial issues but I really think we need to be stop being scared!

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  16. I can think of nothing better than pork lard.... YUM!!! And another great and interesting post with great cooking tips... Yay to celebration of pork lards lol! I'd be adding these to almost every dish I cook if I had them too =D

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    1. hehe and now you can, it's really quite easy to make!

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  17. I love the idea of using the crispy bits for a salad topping. It never lasts in my house, I eat all of it before I can save the bits for a salad. Good quality lard is simply the best.

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    1. Hah I'm the same with crispy fried shallots, I can't resist them to reach the stage whereby I actually store them :/

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  18. Sssh! Don't give away all our secrets!

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    1. Oh dear, what have I done now.

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  19. We had margarine as everyday spread when I was a kid because my dad insisted. The day after my parents split up, my mum went to the supermarket, bought real butter and declared she'd should have known my dad was an idiot if he willingly ate Flora. I haven't touched margarine since.

    I am in love with solid fats these days. I had my gallbladder out when I was younger and at the time they recommended a stupidly low fat diet so it's taken me years to stop being scared of fat at all. But then I realised the solid ones, esp animal fats go a long way and do such a good job and now my fridge is stacked with them. I always buy lard, but I'm going to make my own after reading this! And enjoy every scrap...

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    1. Hah your mum's words: priceless.

      I don't buy lard because I don't know where the lard comes from, it makes me feel a lot better to eat something that I can be sure came from a good source, not just for fats, but animals and even vegetables in general!

      And yes, enjoy every scrap ;)

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  20. What a great post! I don't normally pay attention when and how lard is used, but one of my favorite food Vietnamese sandwiches use lard as butter (I'm pretty sure I'm correct.). It's so good and I don't care too much about "fat". :D Moderation... that's all I need. =P

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  21. Dear Shu Han,

    I was at waitrose and I saw a block of Lard? is this the same kind as the "pig oil" that we use back in SIN?

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    1. Hi David! Pig oil haha. Yep. I would recommend you make sure the pig is a happy pig though!

      It is however likely to be more neutral and pretty much odour-less (less odour or less fragrannce depending on how you look at it) because they stop the rendering at step 3. It's hence more suitable for baking and stuff too. But maybe less of a yummy piggy smell.



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  22. My grandmothers neighbour, in the city of Hull, Yorkshire, ate bread with lard on it every day and lived to be 100 years old.

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    1. LARDY TOAST YES.
      I know a vietnamese lady who looks half her age. She said "It's all the lard I eat".

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  23. i like the picture of the piggy in the jar. I dont know about char kuay teow but certainly in KL the Hokkien Mee must have the lardy fritters. Otherwise it is not the same :)

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