If You Like Bacon, You Can Love Lard
Lard makes things delicious. If you're already using butter, Crisco, or an oil with transfat, lard is better for you. At 40% saturated fat and 45% monounsaturated fat, it's a lower percentage of "bad" fat and a higher percentage of "good" fat than butter (which is 60% saturated, 23% monounsaturated).
Lard is rendered from pork. And while you'd think it would make your food taste piggy, the rendering process separates cooking fat from solid fat, which results in a neutral to slightly nutty flavor. The best reason to use it is for texture.
Lard makes pie crusts flakier. It creates a crisper fry. "'It is absolutely the best for frying,' says Fran McCullough, author of The Good Fat Cookbook, an impassioned defense of butter, fish oil and other natural sources of fat. 'Nothing crisps food quite as well as lard. Hands down, there's no better fried chicken.'"
Why has lard been demonized? This weekend's NPR tackled the topic on Planet Money's Who Killed Lard? Crisco is partly to blame. At the turn of the last century, when a German chemist introduced Proctor & Gamble to the process of hydrogenating cottonseed oils, Crisco was launched, and a decades-long marketing press ensured. Grandmas knew to stick with lard. The rest of us are just coming around.
What else can you do with it? Possibilities are endless. Aside from pie crusts and fried chicken, lard can be used for browning vegetables, pork carnitas, confit (my favorite thing in the universe) bread, or tortillas.
Butcher shops and farmers' markets are the best places to find it, though the key is to make sure you're not getting the hydrogenated stuff. Hydrogenation is the process that makes lard more stable and preserves it, yet it also transforms lard to transfat.
Smitty's sells old fashioned lard by the pound for $3. It has a shelf life, so use it or freeze it.
Want to play with lard? Start with a pie crust, here. Or share your lard adventures in the comments.
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