Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fat: Lard, no. . . lardons, oui!

More than any other food, fat is a vehicle for our cultural biases, and no fat is more reviled in the United States than lard. (Ok, maybe tallow. Trans-fats don't count 'cause they're fake.) Lard is what the Deliverance hillbillies spread on their Wonder bread before going out to sodomize city slickers. A big iron cauldron bubbling in a barnyard, a screaming pig, a slatternly woman missing a few teeth. . . that's lard. 

Lardo, on the other hand, is the ambrosial Italian pork fat with which Mario Batali tops his expensive pizzas at Otto. What a difference an "o" can make. And lardons? Succulent chunks of bacon on French frisee salads. Not just yummy but healthy and slimming! Clever French people. Duck and goose fat: also glamorous because they're French. Would restaurants still tout their "duck fat fries" if duck were the preferred cooking fat of El Salvador?
Meanwhile, chicken schmaltz is considered a little icky because Jews aren't as cool as the French. Chicken fat isn't, however, as icky as lard. No one is lower on the social hierarchy than white trash.*

The recent "nose-to-tail" sustainability movement has redeemed many unpopular parts of the pig and maybe soon we'll get over our silly lard-phobia which, as Jennifer McLagan persuasively argues in Fat, is completely irrational. Today I used some of my (overly) bounteous supply of home-rendered lard in a Shaker bread recipe courtesy of Bernard Clayton's invaluable Book of Breads.

Nothing special, perfectly pleasant,  no telltale "piggy" flavor. 

I also made Spanish-style lard cookies from McLagan's recipe, cookies that I will henceforth call by their daintier Spanish name, polvorones, as I do not want to have to eat all of them by myself.
You make McLagan's polvorones by toasting ground almonds and flour, then mixing them with lard, orange zest, cinnamon, sugar, egg, and brandy. Bake for half an hour at a low temperature. I was skeptical of a lard cookie -- I only talk a good game -- but in fact, these were excellent, lightly spiced and shatteringly crisp. It's the lard! Or so I like to think. 

You can read my story about the Obama vegetable garden here

*You also find a lot of lard in soul food and Mexican cooking. I rest my case.


  1. Lard - with butter - in pie crust was my grandmother's secret. I too have found it my "little secret" that I don't share with my guests for fear of the WT label... Thanks for the fun teachings on different fats found in the world.

  2. I'm a lard-cruster too. And now that I've solved my sugar problem, I might try it in my chocolate chip cookies again.

  3. Given your family's sensibilities, I think you are wise to fight only a stealth campaign on behalf of lard. Be careful not to post the truth until the trap has been sprung and they have praised the cookies.

  4. Jennifer,
    First of all, love the blog, will bookmark it, etc., and am happy that your piece about the Obama's vegetable garden on Slate today led me here.

    But I'm using your Fat: Lard post as a way to reach you just to say that I am so heartbroken to learn you were laid off from Entertainment Weekly. I hadn't seen you there in awhile and had wondered. You have wonderful insights and taste -- and as a reader, I thank you for bringing me, among others, Lionel Shriver -- and I will sorely miss seeing your reviews there. Good to know I can find you elsewhere.

    I'm a bought-out movie critic myself. I left my Bay Area paper last March, just a few months before they laid off nearly all the critics. I spent about six months feeling like hell about leaving the only job I ever really wanted and started to crawl out of the hole around December. If you are so inclined, drop me an email at

    all best, and solidarity for a better future for all of us.

  5. Sorry to post again, but that Slate piece is great, and I'ma pimp it on my blog. If that's okay. Free food . . . faugh.

  6. Don't be sorry to post again, Layne. You think I mind being complimented? Thank-you!

  7. I picked up on your "First Family's First...(Alice Water's, what are you nuts!)" article via Garden Rant. Went to your article and thought, okay that's not as bad as they're ranting about over there.

    Gardeners, you know, we're a prideful bunch. And 50 years of urb and sub urbanization has not loosened the "poo-poo" out of most of us.

    Sideways glance, "hear she's paying a couple grand for a water hose and timer. R-e-a-l-l-y. Hmmmn."

    I'll take the Lard over the Crisco any day.

  8. I discovered your blog today. I want to send you hearts and write your name on the corners of my tablets...
    I <3 your blog. Madilyn