Olive oil has been America's cooking fat of choice since the 1980s, when its popularity surged amid reports of its health benefits and as the culinary community embraced it for its complex taste. I'm so conditioned to reach for it that I never think twice about subbing it in when recipes call for another cooking fat.
My colleague Lan Lam even made this swap at first when she was developing a recipe for cacio e uova, a Neopolitan egg and cheese pasta that traditionally calls for lard. But a conversation with Italian food historian Francine Segan made her reconsider that choice—and our whole team was sure glad she did. While the dish boasted a subtle complexity when made with olive oil, lard made the pasta taste both fuller and richer, the cheese flavor heightened, and lighter and cleaner on the palate. Consider me a convert.
But of course, this discovery isn’t anything new: This creamy pork fat was this country’s favorite fat for baking and frying for centuries, and it is still a common sight in kitchens in Thailand, China, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Mexico, and the American South. If you’re unfamiliar with lard, but want to make use of this powerfully porky fat in your kitchen, read on.
Lard can typically be found in the meat section, in the oil or baking supply aisle near the shortening, or in the refrigerated section near the butter. The most versatile lards taste neutral, clean and rich, but others taste savory and porky. While we like both, if you’re planning to use lard in a variety of applications, savory and sweet, we recommend opting for the former. Some lards have been hydrogenated, a process that helps the fat firm up and resist oxidizing, but we recommend looking for a lard that is not hydrogenated or only partially hydrogenated, as this process has been linked to health issues.
LardThis creamy, white pork fat used to be America’s mainstream choice for baking and frying. Is it time to bring lard back?
Cooking with Lard
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