It was a dreary day, the sort of day that usually darkens my mood as it darkens the sky. But this day was different, because it was a perfect day for a project I’d been putting off for a while.
This is a freezer bag of fatback. When I order a half-hog, I have the option of taking the fatback as well as the meat, and I almost always take advantage of this. Rendering down this fatback produces some of the most heavenly lard you could ever want for pie crusts and biscuits.
But a half-hog has a lot of fatback attached to it, so rendering it can take hours, because it has to be done at a very low heat to prevent browning. I packed the fatback in pieces in freezer bags so I could do this a small batch at a time, and there it sat, in the freezer, waiting. I did one batch, two small jars worth, and then summer’s heat and life’s complications kept me from doing any more of it. Life is far less complicated now, and as I said, it was a dreary day, and I just ordered another half-hog, so that means more fatback is on the way. It was time to get to work.
Once the fatback is cut into small cubes and slowly melted in my cast iron Dutch oven, I ladle it into a clean jar and allow it to cool completely. The flavor is unmatchable; light, clean, pure pork. The farmer I get my pork from tipped me off to the secret of pure, white lard: don’t let the fat brown, and ladle it out of the pot as you go, to prevent discoloration of the lard.
What’s left behind afterwards are cracklings, crunchy little nuggets of porky bliss. If I cannot use these right away, in cornbread or another decadent creation, I freeze them for later.
I will probably brown these a bit more when I put them to use.
But I wasn’t done yet. There was still a small amount of pork drippings in the bottom of the pot, and it occurred to me that I was roasting baby potatoes for dinner.
It had to be done. The baby potatoes were sauteed in the pork drippings until their red skins turned brown and blistered, while the oven preheated to 400 deg. F. They went into the oven on a baking sheet with the drippings and plenty of salt.
The potatoes were roasted for 20 minutes, and tossed in a compound butter with sage and rosemary, more salt, and pepper. They were the perfect foil for chicken cutlets and cider-mustard sauce.
Lard’s bad reputation has been redeemed in recent years. It’s lower in saturated fats than butter, and it has no trans fats like vegetable shortening has. It has a higher smoke point than other fats, so it’s great for frying foods, too. The lard sold in cans at the grocery store may be hydrogenated, so read labels carefully, or just get some fatback and make your own. All it takes is patience and time, and the house smells fantastic while you’re doing it, which is a great mood-booster on a dreary day. The jar of lard you’ll have tucked in your refrigerator or freezer will boost your mood, too, as well as your pie crust and biscuits. Give lard some love, and it’ll love you right back. See you soon on the Road.