Monday, March 9, 2009

Lard: For Authentic Mexican Flavor

Believe it or not! This week's adventure on the farm is a Tub of Lard!

For those who are concerned with flavor when cooking authentic tasting Mexican food, lard is an essential ingredient. Lard is used to make both tortillas and tamales light and delicate. It has a very high smoke point which is very beneficial for deep frying chile rellenos, flautas, and flavorful homemade tortilla chips. Lard adds a richness and a delicious pork flavor that is essentially Mexican in flavor, especially in refried beans. And there is nothing like a mess of greens sauteed in Lard!

If you eat meat, you might want to consider lard as a cooking fat. Rendered pork fat is a traditional and naturally made oil for cooking. The fat is mostly monounsaturated and has 0 Trans fatty acids. It has less cholesterol than butter. It was a main fat/oil used by cooks before the invention of vegetable oil and hydrogenated fats such as Crisco. Traditionally, lard has been used

and enjoyed for making delicate pastries, sauteing and deep frying. Pie crusts, made with lard come out amazingly tender and flaky. Fried Chicken and beer battered fish and chips are crispier when fried in lard. My older Aunts and Uncles have all grown up, used and lived on Lard all of their lives, and most have had very long and healthy lives...into their 90's!

Don't be afraid to experiment with lard in your kitchen, not only is it easy to use and inexpensive, it will add lots of flavor to your food and is not as unhealthy for you as you might have thought.

I have not been able to find lard in the stores here in Panama. It probably is a good thing because many times commercial lard is hydrogenated (bad) to preserve it for unrefrigerated shelf life. Homemade lard is also better because it still retains its pork flavor by not being over processed. Homemade will have a nice ivory color instead of the vapid white of store bought. I have kept homemade lard in the fridge for months with no problems. I throw a spoonful into the pan to fry up potatoes, Yucca, Greens or even into some meat for tacos for extra flavor. I love to refry my beans in lard and use it to deep fry various things. It is very easy to use.

Here in Palmira Abajo, my neighbors love to throw parties around the butchering of their fattened up pigs. It starts very early in the day. As the hours progress, other neighbors begin to show up to help out with the process. The ladies immediately cut up some chunks of the skin and begin to fry up chicharrones (fried pork skins) for snacks. Later, when most of the work is done and the helpers are receiving their portion of pork "to go" for payment, the beer and rum comes out and the festivities continue into the night.

I went to a pig into pork "event" about a year ago. It was a real cultural experience and I was able to see the process and get to know more of my neighbors. I think that I earned a little respect in the eyes of my vecinos. Not many "gringos" go to these functions. I do not go to them as often as they have them, but I often place my order to buy a big chunk of pork. I take off the fat and skin for lard and cracklings for dog treats, marinade the meat, slow cook it, shred it up and then freeze it for quick meals later. Here is my recipe for marinated pork shoulder or "paleta de cerdo".

Marinated Pork, Latino Style

Adapted from Nuevo Latino by Douglas Rodriguez

This also works great for pulled pork sandwiches topped with a little Pineapple Chutney and a slice of Gouda cheese.

Place into a bowl that is big enough for marinating:
3-5 lbs. of pork shoulder. Called Pierna de Cerdo here in Panama.

Blend well the following ingredients, in a blender.
1 large Onion
8 cloves Garlic
1/4 cup of Cilantro or Culantro
2 T. fresh Thyme leaves
2 T fresh Oregano leaves
3 Bay Leaves
1 T. Cumin
1 T. Coriander Seed
2 T. Salt, preferably Kosher or Seasalt
6-10 whole Peppercorns
1/2 cup of White Distilled Vinegar, preferably Heinz brand

With the blender still running slowly add:
4 cups fresh cold Water

You might not get all of the water into the blender without it overflowing.

Pour the marinade over the pork with any of the left over water mixed in, making sure that the pork is well covered. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate for at least 12 hours (more is better) turning the pork at least once.

Take off plastic wrap and place into a preheated 300° oven and bake for at least 3 hours or until pork is falling off of the bone. Shred with two forks and store it in its own cooked juices and marinade. An Alternative is to Slow Cook on Low for 8 hours.


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