In my career as a natural foods chef and cooking instructor, there were two things I came to know:
One, I must do the thing I’m scared to do.
Two, mainstream health and nutrition advice usually gets it wrong.
I learned these two truths from a tub of lard.
For years I’d known the merits of this scorned fat, having read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and other sources.
(Contrary to popular belief, lard is a gold mine of antioxidants. Its fat-soluble nutrients protect our cell walls, feed our brains, and steady our hormones.)
I’d also been, for years, a secret devotee in the Cult of the Swine. As a health-foods chef, by day I touted the virtues of seaweed and flax seeds; after hours, I tied my napkin around my neck and face-planted into anything porcine: ham, bacon, chops, butt, even greasy chicharrones.
But despite my book-smarts and gluttonous indulgences, when it came to lard Big Brother’s nutrition machine had me brainwashed:
Lard. Is. Evil.
To eat it would make me a morally inferior human. While other parts of the pig might be socially acceptable, lard is the purview of devil worshipers, carnal savages beyond redemption.
One day my sister sent me an article titled, “Lard: the New Health Food?” In it, the author details the erroneous slander lard has endured over the last several decades and describes his tentative foray into cooking with this forbidden substance.
His conclusion? Lard “is a fat of rare finesse…as voluptuous as a Rubens nude, but not as heavy.”
Emboldened by his example, I experimented with a batch of jalapeño-cheddar cornbread using a one-for-one switch of melted lard for vegetable oil.
When I opened the tub, the creamy, pearly texture signaled my chef’s instinct that here was a fat of superior quality. Whereas butter separates into milk solids and butterfat when melted, lard remains itself: glossy, jewel-like, shamelessly rich.
In the cooked cornbread, the lard gave a crumb and moistness and lightness that I had never known with any other fat. It lent gravitas to the final product while modestly letting the other ingredients take center stage.
Tears trickled down my cheeks as I ate. What other treasures of life have passed me by because I was too afraid, or because I was following bad advice?
My lard adventure drove home yet again that the things I fear most are just angels in disguise, beckoning me into a more opulent world. The trick is to open the tub and let the fatty richness out, even when all around would say otherwise.
If you’d like to take the lard challenge, try this recipe:
Jalapeño-Cheddar Cornbread (Gluten-Free)
3 tablespoons melted and cooled lard, plus more for greasing skillet
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup raw honey
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk of your choice mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt some of that extra lard and swirl it around until the pan is well coated. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, soda and salt.
Crack egg into a medium mixing bowl and whisk vigorously. Add three tablespoons lard, honey, buttermilk and minced jalapeño. Mix in corn kernels and cheese and combine thoroughly.
Mix wet ingredients into dry, combining well. Pour mixture into greased skillet and pop it into the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes, but check it after 20. You’ll know it’s done when the top is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and dry.
Let bread rest in the skillet for 10 minutes or so. Tie your napkin around your neck before cutting up and digging in. Praise the lard as you take that first bite.
Author: Marcella Friel
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own