- Associated Press - Thursday, August 30, 2012

If ever there was an old-school comestible with a fat chance at trendiness, lard would seem to be it. The name alone is enough to conjure up a frisson of dismay. Nonetheless, lard appears poised to make a comeback.

Chefs have been championing lard for some time — some home cooks never gave it up — and high-quality versions of the fat have become available from artisan producers. Meanwhile, the people behind Grit magazine have written the book on lard, to wit: “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.”

The book, “really came out of one of those crazy, fun, brainstorming sessions,” said Hank Will, editor-in-chief of Grit, which is based in Topeka, Kan., and focuses on American rural life.

Editors were looking for a way to use their huge recipe database and got to talking about how animal fats, particularly those that aren’t highly processed, are making a comeback as research has switched the focus to trans fats as the bane of healthy eating.

The result is 150 recipes gathered from more than 100 years of the magazine, including biscuits, fried chicken, pie crust and flour tortillas.

For San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino, executive chef at Incanto restaurant and known for his nose-to-tail cooking, lard is a natural byproduct of his whole-animal approach. “When we’re getting a very beautiful hog, we try to use every bit of it,” he said. “I think to do so is just the right thing.”

Neither Mr. Cosentino nor Mr. Will advocates eating huge amounts of lard; it is, after all, fat. But Mr. Will noted that it has less saturated fat than butter and is unequaled for foods such as flaky pastry. “It’s like any fat — you don’t want it to be a huge proportion of your diet, but there’s nothing wrong in getting at least part of your fat dose in lard.”

Not all lard is created equal, said Mr. Will, who recommended reading the fine print on the package to make sure you’re getting lard that hasn’t been heavily processed, i.e. bleached, deodorized and hydrogenated.

The best lard comes from old-fashioned breeds of pigs prized for their fat — as opposed to the modern, leaner animals — and part of the lard resurgence has stemmed from small producers raising heritage breeds.

In the kitchen, lard has “hundreds of applications,” Mr. Cosentino said. “It’s great for breakfast cooking. Lard’s good in pastries, in dessert.” He also has some surprising uses for it, including ice cream and popcorn. “Cooking popcorn in pork fat is amazing,” he said.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN GREEN BEANS

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 6

2 cups fresh green beans

3 tablespoons lard

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 tablespoon minced green bell pepper

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

1 cup milk

1 pimiento, chopped

¼ cup grated Monterrey Jack cheese

Bring a large saucepan of water to a simmer. Add the green beans and cook for 4 minutes, or until tender. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain the beans and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat the lard. Add the onion and bell pepper and saute for 2 minutes. Add the flour, salt, black pepper and paprika. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes.

Gradually whisk in the milk and the reserved cooking water from the beans. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thick. Remove from the heat. Add the pimiento and cheese, then stir until the cheese melts. Place the cooked beans in a serving dish and pour the sauce over the top. Serve immediately.

SPAGHETTI AND CHICKEN LIVERS

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 8

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 cups tomato juice

Salt and ground black pepper

½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

½ cup lard

½ pound white button or shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 pound chicken livers, sliced into ½-inch pieces

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the spaghetti for 5 minutes (it will not have finished cooking). Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and saute for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir in the tomato juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the mozzarella gradually, blending thoroughly, then lower the heat and add the cooked spaghetti. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until thoroughly heated.

In a separate skillet over medium-high, heat the lard. Add the mushrooms and chicken livers and saute for 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are browned and the livers are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the spaghetti on a serving platter, then spoon the sauteed livers and mushrooms over the top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

(Recipes from “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” by the editors of Grit magazine, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012)

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