Keep it simple. It is the rule that I have the hardest time following. It is not that I have not been trying, I have been trying hard, but the need to tinker is often times the cause of some of the “lessons”. Not just in the kitchen either. Trying to squeeze every last thing into a weekend or an errand run or trying to fancy up my running music mixes drives me nuts. I am learning though. Through odd channels I am learning. Less is more. Keep it simple, but simple is not easy.
Through Allie Levitt’s shortbread cookies and Mark Mendez’s suckling pig, I am reminded that my favorite foods are not dazzlingly manipulated works of art, but rather ingredients expertly prepared and transformed into something that simply could not be made better through tinkering. Thinking about that idea and ideal flashed as I tasted this lardo for the first time and realized that this was not something radically manipulated, but rather guided to readiness with patience and care (do not mistake me for the great cooks that Allie and Mark are, but the fatback that I started with was so beautiful). I did not do anything radical to make this delicious, but it started that way and I just walked alongside as it got there.
The fat back was beautiful, as mentioned above, and sourced from Crawford farms. As I was told later on in the process (and should have thought of since I was reading “Pig Perfect” at the time), pastured pork fat is much softer, even after drying, than conventional pork. So without even doing anything special, starting with the right source I had almost guaranteed a superior end product in texture. The rest was staying out of the way of the process.
The process itself was very hands off. I coated the belly in a cure of salt, sugar, and spices, then grabbed a handful of herbs from our herb box and wrapped the entire kit in clingwrap. I sandwiched the fatback between two pie plates and kept our family’s milk supply in the top plate to weigh the fat back down. With it out of sight, I let it cure for nearly a month flipping every other day.
After a month, I rinsed the fat back and poked two holes in the short side to run butcher’s twine through for hanging. I hung the cured fatback in the wine fridge with the nduja and spreadable merguez. Something happened at this point that I should have thought about, but did not. The lardo was sitting in close proximity to six chubs of smoked sausage. What else would it do but take on smokey qualities. A wonderful unintended consequence of a 75 day drying period.
Once the 75 drying period was up, I pulled the lardo from the chamber and immediately knew that I was in a good spot flavor-wise. The smoke was pleasant and light (although considering that it wasn’t smoked at all, that is a disputable statement) and the sweet, salty pork aromas were strong. My slicing knife slid easily through the pork. The flavors were fantastic. Sweet and rich with enough salt to feel safe. Even though the smoky aroma was strong, the flavors were just detectable enough to enhance.
The texture was the real star though. Soft and unctuous, the lardo literally melted in my mouth. It was a revelation as I had tasted lardo a number of times, but textures between all tastes were inconsistent. This was the texture that I liked best. At this point, I had spent longer driving home from the butcher shop than I had in doing anything with the fat back and despite that, or likely because of it, one of the best lardos that I have had was hanging on my cabinet pull.
Allowing myself a little fun with leftovers, I had roasted slices of butternut squash that was sprinkled with five spice powder a few nights earlier. The sweet/savory combination reminded me of plantains. The shape of the slices almost instantly presented itself as the outside layer of a jibarito-type mini-sandwich. I was considering bacon (aren’t we always), but after tasting the lardo, I thought that it would be lovely with the squash. Both were sweet and savory and both had a nice, soft texture. Adding a few slices of apple gave an Autumn feel to the sandwich and a little sharpness in flavor and crispness in texture. Three ingredients made for a fantastic little snack and a reminder that simple, might not be easy, but much of the time, simple is better.
- 680 grams pork back fat
- 225 grams kosher salt
- 25 grams sugar
- 10 grams Instacure No. 2
- Handful of fresh herbs, I used rosemary, thyme and anise hyssop
- 5 grams garlic powder
- 5 grams cracked black pepper
- 5 grams coriander, freshly ground
- 5 grams fennel seed, freshly ground
- 1 star anise pods, freshly ground
- 5 crushed bay leaves
Step one: Combine all cure ingredients. Place fat back over clingwrap and coat both sides in cure. Wrap with said clingwrap and press under weights flipping every other day for 30 days.
Step two: Rinse fat back and poke two holes in fat back. Hang to dry for 75 days.
Step three: Slice and consume.