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Around the bend: Prime ingredient to guilty pleasure

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Posted on May 19, 2011 |
By Jessie Raymond



When it comes to this column, there are a few subjects I just won’t touch. Politics and religion, for instance, are off the table. But now, after years of secrecy, and at the risk of horrifying the citizens of Addison County, I feel compelled to write frankly about a taboo topic.

(Warning: Sensitive readers may find the following paragraphs disturbing.)

I’m talking about lard.

Yup, lard. If the word alone makes you recoil, you may need to sit down when I confess that not only do my husband, Mark, and I render our own lard from the pigs we raise, but we also use it in our cooking.

Several times now, we’ve asked the butcher to save us some of the pigs’ fat, which we melt down and strain into jars, leaving us with pure white, creamy lard to use in place of shortening or vegetable oil. 

Lard, once a staple in every household, is today reviled — but only by those who have never tried it.They sense instinctively that it must impart a greasy, bacon-flavored heaviness to foods cooked with it. And, of course, everybody knows consuming as little as one bite of any food made with lard will trigger an instant heart attack.

Actually, lard has a mild flavor. And potatoes and onions pan-fried in a little lard cook up into the crispiest, tastiest bits of heaven you’ve ever eaten. Fried chicken develops a fine, crunchy crust on the outside, while remaining juicy and tender on the inside. Biscuits bake up fluffy and pie crusts flaky.

Lard’s reputation as a silent killer has kept me and Mark quiet for years. But I’ve always wondered if it’s as lethal as people say.

So the last time we made lard — a typical wild Friday night at the Raymonds’ — while Mark poured the hot liquid lard through cheesecloth into canning jars, I searched the Internet for every lard-related article I could find. Would a modest amount of lard in our diets really doom us to his-and-hers angioplasty before we hit 50?

In short: Nope.

It turns out the claims against lard — pure lard, not the processed stuff with added hydrogenated vegetable oils and preservatives you find at the store — are unfounded. Lard is indeed high in saturated fat, but it actually has less than butter — plus nearly double butter’s monounsaturated (“heart-healthy”) fat. And it’s rich in vitamin D.

So how come nobody cares when you spread butter on your toast, but people wail and rend their garments when you grease a skillet with lard?

It’s got to be the name. Could there be any dumpier, more unhealthful-sounding name than “lard”? The word has no positive associations. You might describe something as “smooth as butter,” but you won’t hear “tub o’ lard” or “lard butt” used as a compliment.

With all of lard’s bad press, even people who like it don’t dare say so publicly. If you mention the word, they draw back in exaggerated shock.

“You use lard?” they say, with the same tone in which they might say, “You kill people for money?”

Then, making sure no one’s standing too close, they whisper, “Well, lard does make the best pie crusts.”

Finally, after a struggle with their conscience, they give in and say, “So ... do you think you could get me some?”

I, for one, am all done hiding my lard. I’m coming out of the pantry, sharing my lard with those who dare to try it and who want to find out what they’ve been missing. It’s time to rebuild lard’s reputation and sing its praises without fear of ridicule, disgust or cardiac arrest.

I propose a three-pronged approach to bringing back lard’s former popularity: (1) We will proudly cook with lard (in moderation — this isn’t a deep-frying manifesto, after all); (2) we will dispel the notion that lard must be bad for you because it wasn’t produced in a factory; and (3) we will work to improve lard’s image by using positive phrases in everyday conversation, such as “The snow was whiter than a jar of lard” or “That band was as hot as lard on a griddle.” You get the idea.

What we’re looking at, people, is a bona fide post-Crisco lard revolution.

Of course, you can’t go by what I say. Everyone knows I’m flakier than a pie crust made with lard.

(See what I did there?)

 

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