I finally had time today to go on my quest for the Holy Grail of pie crust: leaf lard. While I did not find leaf lard specifically, I came home with two different lards (is lards a word?).
First things first… What is lard?
Main Entry: lard
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin lardum, laridum; perhaps akin to Greek larinos fat
Date: 14th century
: a soft white solid or semisolid fat obtained by rendering fatty pork
– from Merriam-Webster
And what is leaf lard?
Leaf lard is the highest quality lard. It comes from around a pig’s kidneys. According to Wikipedia, “[it] has little pork flavor, making it ideal for use in baked goods, where it is treasured for its ability to produce flaky, moist pie crusts.”
Okay, fine. So that’s the point, right? Pie crust. I remember the episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown smuggles lard out of the grocery store for use in his pie crust (by the way, he uses the green and white box). Still, I wonder what makes it so much better than vegetable shortening?
Anyway, I set out this morning on my lard quest. I knew if all else failed I could pick up some of the shelf-stable Mexican lard I have seen in the mercados, but first I wanted to try to find something fresher… and preferably leaf lard. I thought of a few places that had nice meat departments or butcher shops, thinking they might have lard (rendered or not).
My first stop was Andronico’s. When I asked the butcher if he had any lard, he told me it was on aisle 9 in a green and white box. Mexican lard. As I turned toward aisle 9, he asked “You making tamales?”. I looked back and said “Actually, it’s for pie crust.” Surprise flickered across his face and he said “Well, now I want some pie.”
I’m not sure exactly what kind of lard is in the green and white box, but I bought it anyway just in case my next stop was unfruitful.
I drove a little further to Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats. It is a German butcher shop that makes great sausages. I saw on a forum (maybe Chowhound?) that someone recommended checking with German butchers for leaf lard… and so I did. Anyway, what I found there was rendered lard in a small tub in their refrigerated case. It’s German name is schmalz… umm? Ick. Not that lard is a pretty word, but schmalz?
Schmalz or no, I was on a mission, so I bought it. When I got home, I started to measure ingredients for a pie crust, but when I opened the lard, I couldn’t bring myself to use it. Partly because it wasn’t chilled (and all of the fats in your pie crust need to be chilled). And partly because the tub of schmalz from Dittmer’s was a little goopey in its unchilled state and smelled porky. Which I guess should be expected as it is rendered pork fat. But I found the smell unpleasant today (this from a girl who uses bacon fat instead of butter or olive oil to cook with just because it’s pork fat and adds flavor to whatever I’m cooking. I can’t explain why the lard gave me the heeby-jeebies).
I decided to put the lard into the refrigerator so we could both chill a bit. And instead made a pie crust using vodka, as mentioned by Evie in the comments of the pie crust (part 1). I haven’t baked it yet though, that I’m afraid will have to wait until tomorrow. And maybe I will find the guts to use some of the lard by then too…
In the meantime, here is a little more about lard: