Lard: a healthy and delicious super ingredient?

Ladies and gentlemen: presenting, for your eating pleasure, one of the most unfairly maligned food substances of all time – LARD.  

Aaaaaand, cue the howls of disgust and dry-retching. There you go – are you finished now? Well, clean yourself up and read on.

People, believe it or not, this stuff (made from pig-fat, yes we admit) is surprisingly nutritious and delicious! And it’s making a come-back in professional kitchens.

Now, we get it: a lot of you guys think this is some kind of attack against good taste and decency. ‘Cos the word “Lard” is basically shorthand for “thick, putrid artery-clogging gunk about as digestible as Selley’s No More Gaps“.

Not so, as we will explain.

What is Lard?

Yes, it’s melted, rendered pork fat. That gunk left in your frying pan after you’ve cooked up a few rashers of bacon – that’s lard. Mmmm-mmmm, sweeeeet hog-grease.

Isn’t all fat bad for you?

No. In fact that’s a big fat urban myth.

Some fats your body likes and needs, stuff our bodies have evolved to digest and use properly. So-called unsaturated fats are now thought to fight problems once associated with consuming excess fat, helping to lower cholesterol for one thing.

Lard is one of these – a mono-unsaturated fat (we’ll have you know) – and it’s actually one of the best sources of vitamin D around. Okay, so it’s got its fair share of saturated fat (40 per cent) but that compares well to 60 per cent for butter.

And, here’s the kicker: unhydrogenated lard contains no trans-fat, which is – of all the fats, the kinda muck that gives fat a bad name.

What is trans-fat?

That’s the fat that increases your risk of coronary heart disease – and a major presence in a lot of margarines, for example. In layman’s terms (ie mine), trans-fat has the effect of raising the level of LDL cholesterol while lowering “good” HDL cholesterol. The general message from the health industry is to try and lower your intake of trans-fat down to zero – well, as much as possible.

As for Lard, while it can’t be considered a health food in our opinion (there’s still that relatively high amount of saturated fat to consider), it’s a healthy alternative.

Lard: the come-back kid

Yeah, Lard has had its great reputation trashed more than Shane Warne – and is more commonly associated with stodgy, old-fashioned British cuisine. Hence epithets such as “lard-arse” (ironically, something that has been directed at Warney a few times).

But it’s finding popularity amongst foodies once more. Not only for its health qualities, but for its effectiveness in cooking.

“It is absolutely the best for frying,” says Fran McCullough author of The Good Fat Cookbook, for example. “Nothing crisps food quite as well as lard. Hands down, there’s no better fried chicken.”

Meanwhile, Rose Levy Beranbaum, the author of the ”The Pie and Pastry Bible” (Scribner, 1998), calls lard a ”miracle fat” for pastry.

”Lard has the ideal plastic properties as a fat,” she said in an interview. ”Chilled, high-quality lard immediately flakes out and distributes itself perfectly” when cut with flour.

And then there’s Rick Bayliss, chef and owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago and a passionate advocate of responsible use of lard. ”Lard’s a voluptuous fat. It rounds out flavours. A mole made with vegetable oil is all rough edges. With lard it’s polished, smooth, and brilliant.”

Meanwhile, Best Home Chef got the lard experience first-hand when we visited Tasmania’s fabulous Agrarian Kitchen recently. ‘Twas here that we sampled the delights of lard-infused cooking courtesy of Best Home Chef guru, Mark Best. He tell us how in this video.

There are, however, a couple of things that we have to acknowledge before we find ourselves swept up in a tide of Lard-love. First of all, you have to be wary about using it too liberally, because a lot of people can’t eat pork – notably, of course, those with religious based dietry restrictions.

Secondly, the healthiest variety is home-made. The stuff you’ll buy in the supermarkets has (often) been hydrogenated to ensure it can sit on the shelves for a while. If you want to the best stuff (and unless you have an excellent specialty grocery story) you’ll have to make it yourself. The good news is this is pretty easy!

How to make lard

Okay so this process may sound a little gross – but if you can put aside any squeamishness, then the end result will be worth it.

The first, and possibly most important step, in this whole exercise is finding a good source of pork fat. That involves making sure the pig was properly treated and fed right – which of course is a pretty neat idea in the moral and ethical stakes as well as a culinary imperative. It may require visiting a specialty butcher or market. Once there, ask for the fat from around the kidneys – that’ll make your best lard.

Once you’ve sourced the fat – here’s the process:

  • First, oil (using olive oil) a well-seasoned cast-iron pan or heavy skillet. Then pour in 1/2 cup of water.
  • Dice the fat up and whack it into the pan. While doing that, pre-heat your oven to about 375 degrees. When that’s done – stick the fat in and roast for about 30 minutes. Continue until all the fat has melted into a clear molten liquid.
  • Remove the skillet/pan from the oven – and let it cool down for a bit.
  • Then pour the fat into a heat-proof container, letting it sift through a mesh sieve. Let it cool completely and transfer to a glass jar for storage.

Okay – we admit – this process is likely to pong a bit. Make sure you cook up a batch big enough to last you a long time and that your kitchen is well-aired (or you’ve got some way to cook outside). And if the worst comes to worst, you may spontaneously decide that a holiday the next day is a good idea.

Whatever happens, you’ll love the cooking results offered by lard. And when you find that we speak the truth – spread the word: praise the lard!

Richie Black
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Richie Black

I'm Richie and I enjoy cricket, writing, music, sending terse 'reply all' emails and tuna sandwiches. Blessed by a surplus of talents, my cooking style is best described as 'relaxed'. Ask me about the secret to the perfect hotpot (wine), and the best way to cure a hangover (hotpot). Google+

Leave a Comment

  • A very interesting read!

    Reply

    by Linda Bullard on 29/06/2013, 11:51
    Linda Bullard
  • Very interesting – who knew? Not real sure about making my own, but I’ll check into it. That would make my tortillas more authentic. :-)

    Reply

    by Susan Stone on 04/07/2013, 10:50
    Susan Stone
  • Richie when I was little girl I remember my parents keep 2 pigs,when the time come for them butcher come and start the job.We have 50 L of the lard and our mum cook everithing on lard.Even homemade slice of bread with lard with fresh green chives on top of it was delicious.But today everything change.The lard was healthy and no any chemical in.I agree with you.That is very interesting article.

    Reply

    by ANNA LINHART on 04/07/2013, 12:58
    ANNA LINHART