Call it what you like – Lardo or Salo or their cousins bacon and lard – few items have been as unfairly maligned by the (scientifically unfounded) anti-saturated-fat media blitz of the 20th century as pig fat. In fact, a key component of pig fat – Arachidonic acid – is a conditionally-essential fatty acid, and is very important for both, brain and muscle function. I could go on about that, but you either already aren’t scared of animal fats and open to ideas which involve eating such, love charcuterie and eat it with gusto, or else you are clutching your bottle of polyunsaturated vegetable oil and hiding in a closet chanting low-fat! low-fat! in a panicked voice. And, I am not actually here today to speak of health benefits of animal fats or try to redeem pig fat in your eyes (I do plan to write a blog post about various fats at some point, or even a series). There is enough debate on the internet and off it on the subject, though I am open to questions if you have them, of course.
The reason I am here today is to speak of how amazingly delicious cured pork fat can be, and to inform you that I have finally gotten my greedy paws on some fresh, gloriously creamy and pink-and-white fat from a grain-fed Finnish pig, and have started the experiment of dry salt-curing it in my refrigerator. And delicious it is. If you are already a fan of good charcuterie, think of the palest, creamy fat edges on dry-cured ham (prosciutto, jamón, speck), imagine a wafer-thin quivering slice of just that deliciousness, with a glorious fine line of seasoning and salt on the very edge – this is what I speak of. It is divine on traditional crackers or rye bread, or picked off a meat platter with a glass of wine (or harder stuff if you can handle that – Russians and Ukrainians apparently have theirs with ice-cold vodka). It is a canape or part of a cheese-and-meat board par excellence, and if you have not tried it yet, I urge you to – should you come across such in a well-stocked gourmet market (or are lucky enough to visit Italy). Those of you who know what I speak of, I need not say a thing further.
You know what I am trying to achieve.
The technique I am using is based in part on advice of a Russian friend and a link to a Russian-language recipe site, and in part on description of process and recipes for Italian Lardo.
Basically, you make sure your have a nice clean piece of fresh fat from a well-raised pig. You place it in a nonreactive dish (glazed ceramic bowl in my case, with a glazed dessert plate for a cover) on a layer of salt (and any seasonings you desire), and cover it in more salt. Cover the dish and put it in a cool room/cellar or refrigerator for a not-entirely-clear amount of time (Salo apparently can be cured as quickly as a few days, Lardo is normally cured upwards of 6 months, and some people opine that pig fat, since it contains no parasites, can be eaten more or less raw, the latter a theory I am not entirely interested in testing. Or tasting.). The consistency of the fat is checked periodically, liquid is drained if accumulated, and the fat re-coated in salt as needed. According to most sources, and as evidenced by the curing times of Lardo (up to 2 years), one cannot over-salt the slab of fat since, by some sort of fat-magic, it won’t absorb excess salt. As a chemist, I suspect it has to do with low water content of adipose tissue, since salt is insoluble in oil. At the point of readiness (which appears to be somewhat subjective based on desired consistency of the finished product), the fat is taken out of salt, cleaned off, seasoned more if desired and frozen or hung up in a curing room, again depending on source and water content (i.e. how long it was cured).
This is purely an experiment for me, and not a recipe (yet, anyway – I will create one, or at least a set of instructions if this works out for me), so this post will be the first in a series, whether the ultimate fate of the fat slab in my fridge ends up being a delicacy or an abject failure, or anything in-between.
I’ll let you know.