Cooking with lard making comeback

June 24, 2009 7:20:36 PM PDT
It has been used by generations for cooking, but fell out of favor over the last half century. It is basically pig fat, but it is seeing new life as people look for more natural ways of eating.

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Lard is making a big comeback.

At San Francisco's Perbacco Restuarant, Chef Steffan Terje prides himself on using natural ingredients and not letting anything go to waste.

"It boils down to preparing ingredients properly, using everything you can, whether it's a vegetable or an animal," he told ABC7.

That includes using pig fat to cook. Lard is simply pig fat reduced over heat and strained to make a creamy, natural substitute for butter, margarine, or shortening, and it is making a big comeback.

"It does produce really crisp pastries. When you fry potato in it it become really flavorful and tasty. And, truly anything I find an application for, it makes a great product," Terje said.

Lard is by no means new. In fact, anthropologist say there is evidence that people made lard as long as 10,000 years ago. Today, people are discovering that an age-old cooking staple is actually better.

Inside San Francisco's Ferry Building, lard is a staple on shelves.

"People these days more and more, at least around here, are looking for more traditional ways of eating," said Steve McCarthy.

At Prather Ranch Meat Company, they have got lard. Owner Steve McCarthy told ABC7 that his profits there have steadily increased.

"We sell quite a few tubs of lard every week," he said.

Customers cannot get enough of the stuff.

"People are buying lard again because they are in search of a good source of animal fats for a variety of different health benefits that it brings, despite what you may have grown up hearing," he explained.

Lard started losing ground when Proctor and Gamble came up with Crisco in 1911. Their marketing campaign made lard seem unsophisticated and unhealthy. Speculation in the 1960's that fat caused heart disease drove sales of lard down further.

According to the National Pork Producers Council, the availability of lard went from 14 pounds a person in 1940 to three pounds in 1975. By 2005 it was half that.

But, it turns out that lard is not so bad for you.

Kaiser Permanente dietician Nicole Britvan says lard is better for you than many of the products that replaced it.

"It's healthier than the alternative of trans-fats and it's actually less saturated fat than butter, and has a little bit more mono-unsaturated fats than butter. So, it's a good option to use," she told ABC7.

As with any fat consumption, Britvan says that moderation is key.

"We don't want to go crazy and start buying a lot of lard, doing a lot of frying. I mean a fat is fat is fat whether it's olive oil or lard. The calories are going to be the same so we want to be careful and not use too much," she said.

In 2010, California will ban the use of trans-fats in all restaurants making lard a suitable alternative. But, not all lard is created equally. Britvan suggests staying away from products that list hydrogenated oils among their ingredients.

"A lot of the commercially store-bought lard is hydrogenated. So, you really want to be careful you want to know that it's coming from a good source," she said.

Chef Terje is among the lard faithful and he says it is easy to get started.

"If you buy a piece of meat and you're trimming it up, and you have pieces of fat left over that you don't necessarily want to eat, save those. Throw them in the freezer and when you have a enough melt them down and make them into lard," he said.

Rendered lard is available at most farmers markets. But, if you are interested in making it yourself Chef Terje has prvided some directions.

Recipe: Rendered Lard

Ingredients: 5 lbs. Pork Back Fat or Leaf Lard and water

  1. Dice fat into 1" cubes, and then grind in meat grinder or food processor until fine.
  2. Add about 2 qts of water to a large pot.
  3. Add ground fat and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook for about 6-8 hours over very low heat, about 170F. Add water when necessary. Keep between 1 to 2 qts of water in the pot at all times. This ensures that fat does not burn.
  4. Strain through a fine strainer or cheese cloth into a large glass bowl or transparent plastic container. Discard solids.
  5. Let cool at room temperature, then place in refrigerator over night. In the morning the lard has separated from the water and become solid. Poke a hole through the lard and drain water.
  6. The lard can now be melted over low heat and placed in glass jars for refrigerated storage.

Recipe: Infused Lard

Rendered lard can be infused with herbs and spices, both savory and sweet. This should be done over a double boiler at low heat or in a vacuum pouch. When placing in a pouch, make sure that lard is solid when sealing the bag. Place bag into simmering water (about 170F).

Savory suggestions:

  • Rosemary
  • Roasted garlic (crack cloves and roast in a small amount of lard, then add to the rest of the lard)
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Lemon peel
  • Black pepper
  • Chili pepper
Sweet suggestions:
  • Vanilla bean
  • Orange peel
  • Lemon peel (Meyer if available)
  • Star anise (crushed)
  • Cinnamon (use stick)
  • Crushed espresso coffee beans
  • Cocoa nibs
**Use flavored lards as you would any cooking fat or shortening. Store lard in refrigerator up to 4-6 weeks in air tight container. Place a small piece of plastic wrap directly on top of lard. Lard can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Recipe: Lard Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients: 2 lbs fingerling potatoes, 2 tbsp lard infused with rosemary, 10 cloves garlic (cracked), sea salt, black Pepper, 1 tbsp chopped rosemary

  1. Wash potatoes and let dry.
  2. Add lard and garlic to a large saut? pan and cook over medium heat until garlic is lightly gold colored.
  3. Add potatoes and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan every so often.
  4. Cook until potatoes are tender.
  5. Add rosemary and season with sea salt and ground pepper.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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