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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 05:42 am

Piggy makes good pie

Good lord, lard comes back into culinary vogue

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Mexican-cooking diva Zarela Martinez cooks with it. Your grandma, too. Food writer Nina Planck sings its nutritional praises.

I’m talking about lard, the rendered fat of a pig that’s coming back into culinary vogue. Shunned by low-fat cheerleaders for nearly a generation, lard is earning some newfound respect in the kitchen. As a member of the lard-skeptics club, I associated lard with Crisco, the trans-fat terror in a can, which had my heart and me running in opposite directions.

Recently a farmer whom I’ve come to know and trust at my local farm market in northern Virginia started selling containers of lard. If I could eat her pastured-pork sausage and chops, I argued, there’s no harm in giving the lard a whirl. If I hated it and my pie smelled like a ham sandwich, I could return to my all-butter ways.

Taking a cue from Rose Levy Beranbaum, prolific cookbook author and pie-crust savant, I embarked on my lard journey. The trip, although a bit new and strange at first, was easier than working with the oft-finicky butter, and the dough required very little patchwork when rolling out. The end result: tender, flaky and decidedly un-hammy. Sweet-potato filling, anyone?

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

Miracle Flaky Lard Crust
from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1 1/3 cups plus 4 teaspoons pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold lard
1/4 cup ice water
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
Whole-wheat flour for rolling

Place a mixing bowl in the freezer to chill.

Place flour, salt, and baking powder into a zip-style gallon-size freezer bag and mix together. Using a melon baller, scoop balls of the lard directly into the flour, shaking bag occasionally to distribute and cover them with the flour. Seal bag. If room is warm and lard starts getting very soft, place bag in freezer for about 10 minutes. If it is still firm but squishable once it’s all been added, using a rolling pin, roll over exterior of bag until lard is in thin flakes. Place bag in freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Empty flour mixture into cold bowl, scraping sides of the inside of the bag. Set bag aside. Gently pour in ice water and vinegar, tossing gently with a rubber spatula to incorporate evenly. Spoon mixture back into plastic bag.

With one hand in the bag and the other on the outside, knead mixture by alternately pressing it with knuckles and heels of both hands, until mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

Remove dough from bag and place it on a sheet of plastic wrap. Sprinkle both sides with whole-wheat flour. Cover with plastic, flatten dough into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Will keep refrigerated up to two days; frozen, up to three months.

When rolling dough, you may roll directly on work surface or on plastic wrap. Sprinkle with whole-wheat flour as needed to keep from sticking. Don’t worry, the whole wheat will not toughen dough; instead it will give the dough extra crunch.

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