Saturday, September 3, 2011
Lardo, my first attempt!
I vaguely remember the first time I heard of lardo. I was familiar with Lard, but why add the O at the end? It was a Mario Batali show he used to do with a friend of his. They were visiting an area known for their lardo production. It featured the large stone "boxes" that held the salt cure. Big fat chunks of the fat off of the back of the hogs would cure in them for months before they were removed. I will admit it sounded pretty weird, but tasty. I finally got to try some a few years later here in Chicago, but for some reason I don't recall where it was. I liked it, a lot. Salty, some herb, and lots of porkiness.
Now you can find it in a few different forms, but only one how it was first described by Batali. The Purple Pig does it in a more restaurant friendly way, still fatback, and still salt cured. They served it sliced thin on warm toast, just as I love it. Old Town Social does a whipped lard version that too is served with warm toast. Likewise for Rootstock. I recently had my first mangalitsa lardo, down in St. Louis, the traditional way from Salume Beddu, the best one I've tried.
I liked it so much that I too wanted to try my hand at it. The trouble was I couldn't find any fatback I deemed worth the effort. The stuff they use at the Purple Pig is pretty thin, seldom more than an inch. This is true of what I had seen from my favorite pig farmer LouisJohn Slagel. But one time, not too long ago, I mentioned I'd love a thick chunk if he ever came across some in his USDA plant. One day I got that call I hadn't really expected. He had processed a Gloucestershire from another natural farmer and he saved the fatback for me. It was an inch thick on the thinner end and almost two inches thick at the other. I had it the next week!
Like every other type of cured anything else, there are many variations on how to do it. This is my version. I made a salt cure of basic things: the basic (salt) cure from Charcuterie, minced garlic, coarse black pepper, chopped bay leaves and chopped thyme. First I removed the skin. Next I rubbed this mixture all over the fatback, and as usual, stuck it into a vacuum sealed bag. You could simply leave it, covered, in a dish similar to the one pictured above or in a zip-lock style bag. I then put it the bottom drawer of our fridge and left it for about 6 weeks. If you don't vacuum seal it, be sure to flip it every so often, every couple days.
After the curing time I removed it from the bag and rinsed it well to remove the remaining cure and herbs. Doing this can leave a wet feel to the exterior. Even if the exterior remains pretty dry, I recommend leaving it to air-dry for a bit. I got busy and left mine in the fridge for almost 3 weeks. This was too much, a few days should be plenty. It leaves a nice texture and makes it easy to handle. By having left it to dry for too long as I did, it left a layer of toughness. I pretty much had to trim this layer off of the top before I sliced down and through to get the desired thin strips that simply melt into the warm grilled toast! The seasoning was great, not too much of anything. The herbs were noticeable but not overwhelming, and pork flavor was allowed to shine as the star.
To enjoy this, it is best sliced thinly and eaten on toast as I have mentioned. Thin enough that it pretty much melts into the toast. We made a little platter with some piquillo peppers and pickled veggies, always nice to cut some of the fat.