The word on the street is that lard has been making appearances in trendy restaurants, but I wouldn't know about that because I'm a shut in who rarely goes out to eat. All of the cool kids are eating lard, so why aren't you? Maybe its because for years lard has had a negative connotation. During the low fat craze of the 1980s and 90s, people were encouraged to limit fat and drastically reduce consumption of animal fats and especially saturated fats. Many of our ancestors, however, consumed large amounts of animal fats like lard, and they didn't suffer from diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity that are so rampant today
The Weston A. Price Foundation, who tends to be a bit extreme for my tastes but also give a lot of good advice, claims that big food corporations were responsible for the vilification of lard. Their motivation was increasing sales of vegetable shortening, margarine, and other processed food products that contain hydrogenated soybean oils and the like. Today, we know that many of these foods are full of trans fats which are much worse for you than saturated fats. Actually, lard isn't even that very high in saturated fat; its mostly comprised of monounsaturated fats.
But lets ignore the health benefits of lard for now because I don't actually care about it that much. Lard just tastes good. It adds a special flakiness to pie crusts, and it give Mexican food that extra-authentic taste. I use it to make refried beans or ropa vieja (shredded cooked beef sauteed in lard with onions, garlic, and chilis). It gives food a certain pleasurable texture and mouth feel.
So where do you get lard? Its widely available in the Mexican neighborhood where I live, but its a cheap variety that contains trans fat and other preservatives. Sometimes you can purchase high quality lard at farmers' markets if you can track down a pig farmer. I've noticed high quality lard showing up at hip locavore butchers like The Meat Hook, Dickson's Farmstand, and Boccolone in San Francisco. Actually, I was in San Francisco last month and tried a lard caramel at Humphry Slocombe using lard from Boccalone. Although I feel a special connection to Chris Cosentino because he grew up in Newport RI like me, he really needs to stop permitting the use of his lard to create these abominations. It was reminiscent of candied jamon iberico, and there's just something wrong and offensive about that. Chris should just stick to the salumi and Humphrey to the ice cream. Both were astoundingly tasty.
I digress. Ok, lard at farmers' markets and at these rock star butcher places can be pricey. Well, I think you know where this is going. You can make your own lard! Its easy! Its best to render lard using fat back, but I haven't been able to track that down. So I usually buy some pork belly, which is one of the cheapest cuts of the pig. I often buy it from Whole Foods when they have some available from Winkler Family Farm in Rodman, New York. I prefer local meat because its important to me that the animals are raised humanely and free of antibiotics. As a bonus, the fat from these animals is also more beneficial to your health.
Now all you need to do is chop the belly into small pieces and put them in the slow cooker. Don't use more belly than will cover the bottom of the slow cooker, or it won't render correctly. You can add a little bit of water to get the fat melting. Turn on the slow cooker and let it go for about 8-10 hours. After all of the fat has melted off the meat, strain it into a glass jar. Place your new lard in the fridge where it will harden and turn a snowy white color. It should keep for a very long time. You will probably have some cracklins left over, so save those too!
Ingredients Breakdown: Homemade Lard vs. Morell Snow Cap Lard vs. Crisco
Homemade Lard: Lard
Morell Snow Cap Lard: Hydrogenated Lard, BHT, BHA to Help Protect Flavor
Crisco: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oils, Mono-and Diglycerides.