Lard used to be a cook’s go-to grease, but it practically disappeared from modern kitchens with the invention of Crisco and warnings about the link between saturated fats and heart health. But the common perception that animal fats are bad and plant oils are good has recently been debunked, reports Modern Farmer.
It turns out trans fats, not saturated fats, are the culprits causing cardiac issues; trans fats are created by the hydrogenation process, which turns liquid into solid fats and gives them a longer shelf life. Vegetable shortening like Crisco and store bought lard are usually hydrogenated, but unprocessed animal adipose actually contains quite a lot of “good” monounsaturated fats.
From a health perspective, olive oil is the best choice, according to NPR. But from a gourmand’s perspective, artisanal grease from pork (lard), beef or mutton (tallow), and poultry opens up a whole new horizon of flavor possibilities, and also fits under the philosophical umbrella of nose-to-tail eating. So make like grandma and give these alternative fats a try.
Fat #1: Lard
According to The Independent, lard was once so central to the British diet that the room where food was stored—the larder—was named after it. Back and belly fat carry a slight pork essence, but leaf fat from the loin and around the kidneys has a neutral taste that’s perfect for baking. Lard’s high smoking point makes it great for deep frying, too. When purchasing lard, steer away from the hydrogenated stuff at the supermarket in favor of unprocessed lard from quality butcher shops and farmers markets.
Grilled Mackerel with Lardo, Avocado, and Jalapeño on Toast
Recipe: Food & Wine
This appetizer from The Catbird Seat in Nashville combines three kinds of delicious, healthy fats: oily fish, avocado, and Italian lardo (back fat that’s been wrapped in herbs and cured). There’s not much cooking required, just get the best quality ingredients you can and let them speak for themselves. (Pro tip: lardo on a piece of warm toasted bread—with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt—is out of this world delicious). (Photo: Food & Wine)
Recipe: Jamie Oliver
Unctuous cubes of pork belly are slow-cooked in herbs and lard for this traditional French dish, from Ed Wilson of Terroirs restaurant in London. The lard and belly fat bring out an incredible depth of flavor from the pork that needs nothing more than a hunk of peasant bread to accompany it. (Photo: Tara Fisher/Jamie Magazine)
Recipe: Serious Eats
Bakers know that using lard results in the flakiest pie crusts, but you’ll be surprised at how well it works in bread, too. This savory Italian loaf is flavored with scallions and rosemary; reserve some lard and spread it on the warm, just-out-of-the oven slices. (Photo: Chichi Wang/Serious Eats)
Fat #2: Schmaltz and poultry fat
You’re probably already using rendered chicken and turkey fat under the guise of “pan juices”—the golden liquid at the bottom of the roasting pan is the secret to a good gravy. Schmaltz usually refers to chicken fat that’s been rendered with onion, and is available at kosher groceries (or you can make your own). Duck and goose fat is sold at most gourmet shops.
Mile End Deli’s Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
Recipe: Mile End Deli via Williams-Sonoma
Classic Jewish soul food requires patience, love, and schmaltz. This recipe from Mile End Deli will result in light, fluffy matzo balls, but If you want sinkers instead of floaters, cut down on the baking powder and use the finest matzo meal you can find. (Photo: Williams-Sonoma)
Duck Confit with Spicy Pickled Raisins
Recipe: Bon Appetit
Confit is an age-old method of slow-cooking something in its own fat. This recipe calls for skin-on duck legs; as they cook, the layer of fat under the skin will render into a luxurious poaching liquid. The resulting meat will be tender and falling off the bone, it’s richness cut by the sweet, vinegar-pickled raisins. (Photo: Marcus Nilsson/ Bon Appetit)
Duck Fat Fries with Rosemary and Parm
Recipe: Michael Symon
The secret to this gastropub specialty is two rounds of frying: Once on a lower heat to cook the inside, and then a second scorching to get that more-ish crispiness. In this recipe, Iron Chef Michael Symon elevates the shoestrings with parmesan and Greek-yogurt aioli. (Photo: Cooking Channel)
Fat #3: Tallow
These days, cow and sheep’s fat is more commonly used in soaps, candles, and lotions than in the kitchen, but the Paleo community is picking up on this once widespread cooking ingredient. (Most fast-food chains used to use it for deep frying since it’s stable at high temperatures and imparts a slight, but delicious, meaty flavor). Tallow has a high smoking point, a long shelf life, and unlike lard or schmaltz, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. You can buy grass-fed lamb and beef tallow from specialty purveryors like US Wellness Meats and Snake River Farms; you can also source suet (solid, unrendered fat) from your local butcher or make it at home.
Cajun Burgers with Caramelized Onions
Recipe: Pastured Kitchen
Cajun seasoning makes everything taste good, but using tallow to fry the burgers and onions gives this gluten-free dish an extra layer of beefy flavor. (Photo: Freerange Human)
Fried Green Tomatoes
Recipe: Jan’s Sushi Bar
This recipe for the classic Southern side dish is also gluten-free, but you can switch the almond flour for regular if that’s what you’ve got. The beef fat really gives it that extra oomph, as does a splash of Tabasco in the batter. (Photo: Jan’s Sushi Bar)