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Accepting the Lard Back Into Your Life

For years, the butt of jokes, the source of shuddering revulsion – lard has been the most reviled cooking fat for many generations.  It wasn’t always this way.  At one time, lard was cooking fat’s It Girl.  As these cheery advertisements indicate, lard was once marketed as a sensible lifestyle choice, for hip power couples and families alike.  But eventually, lard was eclipsed by butter and its ugly stepsister, margarine – and later on by sexy newcomers like olive oil.   So indeed lard has been relegated to become the Jimmy Carter of cooking fat, toiling away quietly and doggedly in certain regions of the country, in pie crusts and the like, while remaining the subject of derision for many.

So- the question arises, do you even know what lard really is? Yeah, sure, it has lots of fat, beef fat, or something.

In fact, it is pig fat.  Pig fat is all the rage these days, at least around New York City.  Restaurants like Fatty Crab, Fatty Cue, the Momofukus and many more have basically been created to serve you pig fat.   They call it pork belly.  If you’re really hungry you can get a Bo Ssam, or a suckling pig and feed a crowd.   So – if all the love for pig fat, why no love for lard?  Because its so bad for you! Well, maybe yes, maybe no.  According to the Source Book For Food Scientists (2d ed. 1991) by Herbert W. Ockerman, lard has less saturated fat and less cholesterol than butter by weight, and no transfats.   So, in some respects, you are better off using lard than butter.

So, you are ready to accept the lard back into your life – what to do with it?  Here is a recipe in which lard is a very traditional and crucial ingredient, but which I think most people will want to eat regardless of their prejudices.  So if you are ready to fall in love with lard all over again, give it a whirl:

Tamales De Dulce (Sweet Tamales)

Makes 24 tamales

This recipe is from “Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art,” by Tom Gilliland,  Miguel Ravago and Virginia B. Wood (Shearer Publishing).

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups vegetable
shortening or lard
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 1/2 cups masa harina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 10 3/4 ounce can chicken broth
1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 cup chopped candied citrus peel
24 corn husks

Instructions:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the lard until fluffy, about three to five minutes. Add sugar, salt and cinnamon; beat to blend. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the masa harina, baking powder and chicken broth. With the mixer on low speed, add the masa mixture, a little bit at a time and mix until all ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the raisins, anise seeds and citrus peel. Set aside.

Soak the husks in hot water for about 20 minutes or until they are soft and pliable. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Put 2 tablespoons masa down the center of each husk. Follow pictures for folding. Place the rack in the steamer and pour in enough water so that it just touches the rack. Stand the tamales on the rack, open end up. Bring the water to a boil, cover and steam for about 45 minutes. Serve warm.

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