Lard all Mighty

Yes, I know. Lard is a pretty gross thing. It’s held onto its reputation of being the greaziest of the greases for a long time. Ussually, just mentioning that there was lard in something you cooked knocked a couple of style points off your recipe. Well, I’ll humbly confess that I’m now a convert. Say what you will about its style, the stuff is reliable.

After years of making butter crusts for pies and quiche, I finally got to thinking about using lard. Part of the motivation was reading through the Nourishing Traditions and Pie cookbooks that I borrowed from the library. Both are firm fat advocates in every way. Well, I mean that to say that they are firm in their conviction and that they advocate firm fats, but the authors themselves are of a healthy body mass index.

Anyway, after hearing about how this legendary lipid could change my cooking for the better for a few months, I was primed for a catalyst of change, which came in the form of taco night. I had decided to make my own tortillas from the planning stages since I can’t stand store bought tortillas. First, It’s hard to justify paying almost a dollar per wrap. Second, the ingredients section of those things always fills a 4″ square with size ten font. It’s pretty gross.   When it came time to find a recipe, though, I had to make a choice. Sure, there are recipes that use vegetable oil, but they were so few that I got the impression that they were really just an imitation of the tradition. There were also a fair number of recipes that called for veggie shortening, but using that would still mean a trip to the store to get something new.

It’s times like these that being friends with a butcher comes in handy.

My super buddies, Paul and Mary of the Mad River Valley, had just recently rendered a heaping helping of lard that they’d brought home from work. Since most people think lard is a gross thing, apparently no one really asks for it when their pigs are processed. This means that they can get a ton of really good quality free fat. What I also learned, though, is that you really aren’t in a hurry to cook with lard after you’ve spent all day rendering it. All this just means that I got to get a jar from them.

Score.

It was way more stable to work with than butter. I didn’t have to feel rushed to incorporate it into the dough, which allowed me to mix it way better. The recipe I used was pretty simple:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cold lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup warm water

I was a little surprised at the inclusion of baking powder, but it apparently yields a slightly thicker tortilla. If I was shy about girth, I wouldn’t be using lard.

I kneaded them for about ten minutes just to be sure that they’d be nice and springy instead of crumbly when I went to roll them out. At this point, there’s usually something in the recipe about dividing the dough up into 6-10 dough balls and letting them sit for a few minutes. I’ve tried it both ways and here’s what I’ve come up with; if you don’t let them sit, the gluten that was formed during the kneading doesn’t have time to relax and it’ll fight you during the rolling. However, letting them sit in their spherical form only allows it to relax a little. What I ended up doing was rolling them out a bit, then letting them sit for about ten minutes before rolling them again. This gave me pretty big tortillas by the end of process. Admittedly, this is a lot of steps. If you’d not bother, letting them sit as little dough balls is just fine.

When it came time to cook them, I found that a dry pan worked best. There’s really enough oil in the tortillas themselves that they don’t really need anything. The only problem with using a dry pan is that the tortilla wants to stay put as soon as you put it in there, which means that any accidental folds become instant really quickly. I found out, though, that you’ve got about four seconds to do some final positioning when it hits the pan. After carefully placing it down, I would use my fingertips to help spread it out, which actually ended up giving the final diameter an extra inch or so. As a plus, you can actually feel thousands of tiny bubbles forming under your fingertips.

So, there it is. Lard should be given another chance and tortillas are easy enough to make that buying the lackluster grocery versions is not worth the six dollars.

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