Basically Italian fatback, this cured pork product should be made with the best quality pork back fat you can find. After curing, lardo should be sliced tracing paper thin and served just below room temperature, with only a crisp cracker to contrast its obscene richness.
The fifth quarter, or butcher’s cut, is offal traditionally kept by the butcher for home cooking. Often inexpensive and always tasty, RVA’s monthly column, Fifth Quarter, offers less-traveled recipes that are both good and offal.
The sixth installment of Fifth Quarter utilizes pork fat, which can be found for a couple of bucks a pound, or sometimes, free. My source gifted me the fat on Craigslist.
Basically Italian fatback, this cured pork product should be made with the best quality pork back fat you can find. Factory-farmed pork will not have the layers of flavor and depth of taste that humanely raised animals offer. The fat needs to be at least an inch thick and should be kept away from light and temperature changes while it cures.
After curing, lardo should be sliced tracing paper thin and served just below room temperature, with only a crisp cracker to contrast its obscene richness. But, if the idea of eating pure, melt-in-your-mouth-fat bothers you, you can use diced lardo in place of American fatback when cooking summer vegetables, such as beans or squash.
I like lardo best shaved on top of pizza with garlic, red pepper, and a little olive oil. This is an easy, “no cooking” summer recipe that won’t warm up your kitchen. It will be ready to enjoy in October, when the nights are chilly and a sensual layer of fat is sexy under the covers.
- 1-1/2 lbs homegrown pork fat, either from a farmer or Belmont Butchery
- 3/4 lb Kosher salt (about half a box of Morton’s Kosher Salt)
- 1/4 pound sugar
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 cup minced garlic
- 1/8 cup cracked black pepper
- 1/8 cup dried thyme or 1/4 cup fresh thyme
- 2 star anise pods (internet or Penzeys in Carytown)
- 12 crushed bay leaves
- 1/8 cup juniper berries (you’ll probably need to track these down on the Internet)
Mix the salt and sugar together in one bowl, then mix the herbs and spices together in a separate bowl.
Cover the bottom of a large glass baking dish with the salt mixture. Then add a layer of the herb mix. Next add your pork. Cover with another layer of salt, then spices.
Wrap the dish with two layers of plastic wrap, and then put a heavy plate on top of the wrapped pork that is smaller than the top of the container. The plate should just cover the pork, put not leave an air gap. Place canned goods or barbell weight (something heavy) on top of the plate to weight it down. Let this cure for two weeks, flipping the pork every few days, in the back of your refrigerator.
Continue the refrigerator curing of the meat for three months. After three months, remove the pork from the brine and rinse well. Pat it dry, slice it thin, then and serve it on crackers, pizza, bread or as part of a salami plate with cheese, olives, and other cured meats.
Note: This recipe is even better, and less salty, if you are able to hang the meat half-way through the brining process. For convenience, I modified the recipe. But, if you have a dark room that never gets over 60 degrees with about 65% humidity, then give hanging the pork a whirl. Instead of leaving the pork in the back of the fridge for three months, take it out after a month, rinse the brine, pat pork dry and poke a hole in the pork. Slip twine or natural string through the hole and let the meat hang in your dark, humid room for another month.