The Nasty Bits: Lardo

Chichi Wang

Lardo is cured fat, usually from the back of a pig. The fat is packed in salt and herbs and left to cure for a month or so. If you spend some time in a butcher shop, one of the first tasks you might learn is how to take the skin off pieces of back fat. You do so by pinning the blade of your boning knife as closely to the skin as possible and pulling the blade smoothly along the edge of the table so that the pieces of back fat curl away from you as you're cutting. It's necessary, mundane work that is practically fool-proof, perfect for novices, unless, like me, you are extremely under-muscled. Then you might slip and slide against the fat, which greasy and soft when it is raw.

Curing transforms the slippery fat into dense, buttery blocks of lardo. Shaved thinly and served with nuts, lardo makes a simple yet memorable antipasto dish. You can drizzle the nuts and lardo with honey, or serve the platter of fat with olives. You may think that a roasted and salted almond doesn't need embellishment, but there is something special about pairing pig fat with nut fat. Both types of fat are rich yet distinctive, and when you eat them together, the sum really is greater than its parts. To do so, shave thin slices of lardo, wrap around nuts of your choosing, and eat. That is another advantage of lardo; it is enjoyable as-is, though you can also cook with it.

You can find lardo at an Italian butcher shop, or order blocks of lardo online. Though I've yet to try it, I can imagine the lardo from Iberian pigs, which are fed on a diet of acorns, must be exceptionally sweet.

Here are some other great uses for lardo:

  • 1. Lardo pizza. Grill or bake your pizza crust, then top with thin shavings of lardo and drizzle with olive oil.
  • 2. Lardo on bread, toast, or crostini. Same concept as pizza, though I sometimes like mine sweeter with honey.
  • 3. Lardo and steak. Thin slices of lardo set atop a grilled or pan-fried steak.
  • 4. Potatoes browned in lardo. Or really, any milder-tasting root vegetable that would allow the flavor of the pork fat to come through.
  • 5. Lardo-wrapped dates or prunes. Grill or broil briefly, just until the edges of the fat begin to curl and brown.
  • 6. Lardo pastry. Cut cubes of lard into the flour until it has a slightly rougher than cornmeal consistency, and use it for either a savory or sweet tart.
  • 7. Rendered and whipped lardo. Use in place of butter on toast and bread.

How do you use lardo?