It’s not a pre-New Year’s motivational insult, it’s Italian cured pork fat. I had three pounds of pork fatback that was a gift from my CSA, so I looked for something to do with it. My choices came down to using it to make sausage (a project for the new year) or lardo, and the latter won out due to its simplicity of preparation.
The recipe I used comes from Hank Shaw’s (no relation) blog Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook, which can be found here. I halved his quantities to match the amount of fat I was working with and assembled my ingredients: a half pound of kosher salt, a quarter pound of sugar, about half a cup of chopped rosemary, two tablespoons each of garlic powder, black pepper, and dried thyme, three star anise pods, fifteen crushed bay leaves, three pounds of fatback, and one ounce of Insta Cure No. 2 (the pink stuff, it’s sodium nitrate).
I combined all of the dry ingredients in a bowl. At this point I realized I had synthesized essence of salumeria; it smelled like an Italian deli.
I layered some cure in a glass dish, then placed a piece of the fatback on top.
I alternated layers if cure and fat, then covered the dish in plastic wrap.
I weighed down the assembly with a small pan and a foil-covered brick (an essential kitchen tool), set everything in a plastic tray, and placed it in the fridge for two weeks.
Every three days, I rotated the pieces of fat and checked on the progress of the cure. The fat was giving off some moisture, which turned the cure into a paste, but not enough to create a brine. I was beginning to worry, but decided to press on.
After two weeks I removed the fat from the cure, rinsed it in cold water, patted it dry, and prepared it for the long drying process by threading butcher’s twine through a corner of each piece with a larding needle.
I consulted Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn to figure out the ideal drying setup, and discovered that they also had a lardo recipe, which included this step:
Remove the skin from the fatback.
The recipe I was working from failed to mention this step, and now I was convinced that the lack of moisture released during the cure was due to the barrier formed on one side by the skin. There was nothing for it but to continue. I hung the fat in a trunk scavenged from the lab where She Who Must Be Obeyed works, using two cup hooks to suspend the fat over a glass an full of heavily salted water (to inhibit any bacterial growth). After taking the photo, I closed the lid almost completely, leaving it cracked open to allow air circulation but preventing light from hitting the fat. (Light causes fat to go rancid.)
That was three weeks ago. Today I removed the fat from the drying rig. It was dry and firm, so my fears about the moisture levels were unfounded.
I didn’t trim the fatback before curing, but will remove the thin layer of pork when I am ready to serve it. I couldn’t resist trying a few slices before vacuum sealing all of this porky goodness for future use.
This stuff tastes amazing. Yes, it’s pure fat, but it’s salty and sweet, and scented with herbs and anise. I need to slice it almost paper-thin, which will let the fat almost melt at room temperature. Now I have another excuse to save up for a meat slicer.