If you're trying out a classic recipe for Southern buttermilk fried chicken, going down the rabbit hole to figure out how to make a flaky pie crust, or trying to perfect the ultimate chocolate chip cookies, you may have found yourself on a quest for lard. The once-ubiquitous, then ridiculed, then long out-of-fashion cooking oil has been making a comeback lately, thanks to a generation of more considered nose-to-tail cooks determined to bring all kinds of formerly forgotten cuts of meat (like short ribs) back to the table. But that doesn't mean that you can now grab lard on a quick run to the grocery store.
Lard is used as a cooking fat, much like olive oil, coconut oil, or vegetable shortening. It's essentially rendered pork fat. Because of its high cholesterol content, there are understandably some health concerns about using too much of it. That's not to say it doesn't have some benefits—according to NPR's The Salt, lard is healthier than hydrogenated vegetable oils like shortening, but it's not as healthy as, say, olive oil.
But the real value in lard is its versatility in the kitchen. Lard is typically solid at room temperature, even more so than butter. Because of that, and because it's frankly delicious (if you like bacon, you like the flavor of lard), it's useful in all kinds of cooking situations. If you're interested in adding the cooking fat to your recipe regimen, here's where to buy lard, how to use it, and easy ways to either substitute, or make your own.
What can I use lard for?
Traditionally, lard has stepped in for things like butter or olive oil when it comes to cooking and deep-frying. Lard is particularly useful for baking. Because it doesn't turn liquid easily, lard is many bakers' secret ingredient for making delicious, light, uber-flaky pie crusts that deserve a resounding chef's kiss. And if you're feeling daring enough you can make it a full-on butter replacement, even going so far as to enjoy it on toast.
Is lard a healthy fat?
There's no denying the fact that lard is a fat. And like all fats, it is incredibly calorie-dense. Lard is also a source of cholesterol. But as far as fats go, it's far from the worst. Lard boasts 20 percent less saturated fat than butter and a higher concentration of "healthy" monounsaturated fats, according to The Guardian. It also doesn't necessarily have any trans fats—the thing the World Health Organization is working to eliminate (though you have to be careful what kind you buy—see below). Ultimately, as with anything, moderation is key.
Where do I find lard in the grocery store?
Not every supermarket carries lard, and it may be best to ask before wandering around in search for it. However, if your local supermarket does carry it, you're most likely to find lard either in the meat section, near the cooking oils, or in the ethnic food aisle (where it is sometimes called "manteca").
Just be aware that some lard sold unrefrigerated has undergone a hydrogenation process. This means the product will have a longer shelf life, but it will include trans-fatty acids and less vitamin D. If you can't track it down at your local Walmart or Kroger, this not-so-healthy tradeoff could explain why it's been pulled from shelves.
Can I buy lard from a butcher?
Yes—and it's much more likely that the lard you purchase there has not been hydrogenated. You can also ask your local butcher for a piece of back fat or leaf lard to take home and render on your own. It's easier than you think. You simply simply dice the fat, melt it in a slow cooker for a few hours, strain it, and store it in the fridge.
Where else can I buy lard?
Head to your local farmers' market or go straight to the source—a farmer who raises his or her own pigs. You can also order online from certain farms, ranches, or butchers, including Fannie and Flo and Grassland Beef.
What if I can't find lard?
If you need to make that recipe soon and can't wait for a delivery from Amazon, or you're still not fully sold on lard and would rather use something a little more familiar, you can simply stick with a cooking oil that you're more familiar with. For deep frying, use a high-heat oil like peanut or canola. For baking and pastries, use butter or shortening. For recipes where lard is predominately adding flavor, you're welcome to use whichever oil appeals to you best, including vegetable oil, olive oil, coconut oil, or of course, butter.
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