Lard

New York City’s health department is asking for all city restaurants to voluntarily give up using trans fats in their cooking.

Trans fats, as we should all know by now, are the artificially hydrogenated vegetable oils that seem to be in every commercially produced baked good, snack food and fast food in the country. They also seem to be worse for humans to eat than either butter, or the subject of today’s postlet–lard.

Some folks seem to be scared of lard–probably because of all its bad press over the years as being the world’s most unhealthy of fats, but I think a lot of it comes from the fact that the word itself just has a pejorative connotation. When we want to insult someone, we call them “lard-ass” or “tub-of-lard.” Lard comes from pigs, who are among the maligned of animals, being as they have the reputation of being fat, gluttonous, and smelly. Calling someone a pig is a dire insult indeed, but I notice that for all that people revile pigs as creatures, they sure do like the way that they taste.

The fact is, lard really is better for you to eat than Crisco. My Gram knew it had to be so all along–but medical science has born her intuitive mistrust of artificially hydrogenated fats, and the result is that the FDA has ruled that for reasons of public health, every food that has trans fats in it will have to be labelled as such by 2006. Warning labels–hrm–what other consumables have such things? Oh, yes, alcohol and tobacco products. Hrm.

Back to lard.

I am not saying that lard is a health food here. It is fat. You shouldn’t sit your butt down and eat a big bowl of fat every hour of the day. That will kill you.

However, lard is not as bad as we have been led to believe.

Listen to the statistics reported in a New York Times OpEd piece this morning: “It has half the level of saturated fat of palm kernel oil (about 80 percent saturated fat) or coconut oil (about 85 percent) and its approximately 40 percent saturated fat is lower than butter’s nearly 60 percent. Today’s miracle, olive oil, is much lower in saturated fat, as everyone knows, but it does have some: about 13 percent. As for monounsaturated fat, the current savior, olive oil contains a saintly 74 percent, yes. But scorned lard contains a very respectable 45 percent monounsaturated fat – double butter’s paltry 23 or so percent.”

Doesn’t sound that evil, does it?

That is probably because it really isn’t that bad. Again, I am not advocating that you toss out your olive oil and canola oil and fry everything in gobs of lard here, and eat pie crust made from lard thirty two times a week–what I am saying is that folks might want to think about giving lard a second chance.

Besides its partly undeserved bad health rap and pejorative connotations, I think lard also suffers because it isn’t very easy to work with.

While it makes the best pie crusts in the world, hands down, it is a pain in the tuckus to work with.

The reason for this lies partly in its slightly healthier fat profile than butter–it isn’t hard and solid, even when refrigerated, the way butter is. It has less saturated fat than butter–and saturated fat is what makes a fat solid at room temperature. Well, if you set butter and natural lard (not that artificially hydrogenated lard stuff that is godawful) next to each other on the counter and let them come to room temperature, they will have different consistencies.

The butter will soften, but the lard will become practically gooey.

That is why when I gave my recipe for the half lard half butter pie crust, I advocate all those little tricks and techniques to keep the dough cold at all costs. Because if you get lard warm at all–it will gum up the works of any pastry making endeavor.

Compared to Crisco, which you can cut into flour while standing on your head in a hot room with the oven door open and blasting, lard is just unruly and horrible, so no wonder people switched over. Besides a lot of housewives had to render their own lard, which is a smelly and inconvenient process, which I have helped with many times.

Crisco was easy, lard was hard, and then, suddenly, lard was unhealthy, so why bother?

Except that now, we understand that not only does Crisco make a tasteless pie crust, it isn’t even good for you to eat it. Why then, make something that neither tastes good, nor is good to eat?

So, we come to the moral of my story: don’t be afraid of the pig. If you can find a source for good unhydrogenated lard, buy it and use it. (If not, give a shot to rendering your own, though do realize that if you have a small apartment, your entire place will smell like lard for a good long while.) Remember, it is soft and so might be fractious if you are making pie crust, but if you use my little tricks and tips, you can get through it. Or melt it in a pan and shallow fry up a batch of chicken–it will be the best you have ever tasted. (Or, do like my Grandma did and use mostly liquid vegetable oil mixed with lard or bacon grease for flavor.)

I have to go now and bake two pies with all butter crusts–they are for a celebration welcoming Heather back from Lebanon. I do have lard, but she’s Muslim, and well, while I don’t hold truck with fearing lard for health reasons or just because the thought of it is icky, I will not mess with spiritual reasons for avoiding the pig.

8 Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. We don’t get ‘Crisco’ here, but they still pack everything full of hydrogenated fat. I’m with you on the disliking it thing – once I found out how they made it you couldn’t get me to touch it with a ten-foot bargepole! Bring on the lard, I say! (though I usually use goosefat for frying with) :-D

    Comment by Christina — August 12, 2005 #

  2. Chicken fat is good for frying, too.

    Glad to know that Crisco doesn’t exist in the UK. (Even if you guys have your own versions–it is still good to know that it isn’t there!)

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 13, 2005 #

  3. Yay, lard! I never knew the joy of lard until a friend had a pig butchered a couple of years ago, and had tons of fatback that he didn’t know what to do with. We rendered some of it down into lard, and have been enjoying the fabulous pie crust ever since. But now, alas, we’re getting to the end of the lard, so we’ve been mixing it with our duck fat, just to stretch it out. (And I know what you mean about a delicate crust…yikes!)

    I’ve been afraid to buy lard in the grocery store because of the “factory farm” issue, so I guess I need to find me another friend who’s growing an organic pig!

    Comment by Liz — August 13, 2005 #

  4. I don’t think that a person who had shared walls with another family, much less hallways could render lard!

    One of my treasured memories of living in South Dakota (where rural really means it!) is dropping by to visit a friend and, when he opened the door, asking, “What is that SMELL??!!??”

    We had to go outside to chat. nb, the treasuredness is the specialness of the friend, the memory of the smell is merely funny. I found that the pie-crust had a ‘taste’, but I was pregnant and very sick at the time, so that might not obtain with everyone.

    Comment by wwjudith — August 14, 2005 #

  5. Hello, Liz, Judith–

    Yes, I have rendered lard in an apartment building. It did not endear me to the rest of the residents of said building.

    Judith–if you use only lard in a pie crust–it does have a flavor of its own. Some people like that flavor, others do not. When you are pregnant–as you know–your sense of smell is stronger, which accentuates your sense of taste. This leads to a lot of things that normally taste good to tasting disgusting. I suspect lard pie crust to be one of those things.

    Liz–you can find a friend with an organic pig, or look for an organic farmer who raises pigs. If they don’t render the lard for you, they may sell you the fat to render yourself.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 15, 2005 #

  6. Well now I HAVE to go in search of unhydrogenated lard… I had not paid proper attention and didn’t realize it was almost liquid. Now I also understand the need for the bowl of ice for the mixing bowl to be in.

    As for making pastry for your Muslim friends, (which you’ve probably already done) I have made a pretty amazing Italian style pastry using olive oil. Granted, it isn’t quite the same as regular pie pastry but it is really good.

    -Elizabeth

    Comment by ejm — August 15, 2005 #

  7. I used all butter, Elizabeth, and it was quite good, though I am used to the softer, more waterier texture of lard, now, and was confused by the amount of water that it took to make the pastry come together!

    And butter is supposed to be easier to work with.

    Fah!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 16, 2005 #

  8. Go figure. I guess it really does come down to what we’re accustomed to using. Glad the 100% butter worked though.

    Was the flavour the same richness?

    -Elizabeth

    Comment by ejm — August 17, 2005 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress. Graphics by Zak Kramer.
Design update by Daniel Trout.
Entries and comments feeds.