Every year for Thanksgiving, we make Cornish pasties, which are football-shaped meat and potato pies. (American football, not soccer ball.) We’ve been looking forward to this for several days, so when Laurie went to get Iris up from her nap, she said:
Laurie: Do you remember what Dada is making for dinner?
Laurie: Not lobster.
This year, for the first time, Iris got her own pasty, a little one like those sold “for the cheel” in Penzance. She didn’t eat very much of it, probably because we ate dinner at five o’clock, but then after we got back from visiting the family, she attacked the leftovers like a Cornish coyote. She also brushed the egg wash on the pasties with impressive precision; I think she’s already better with a paintbrush than I will ever be.
Our pasty dough has a secret ingredient: lard. Many pasty recipes, including the ones we inherited from Laurie’s family, call for shortening, margarine, or both. I’m obviously not a health nut, and there are trans fat-free versions of both products, but there’s something, well, unfestive about them. Pasty dough is fairly bland to start with, and flavorless shortening and margarine aren’t going to help. Also, hey, this is Thanksgiving, America’s holiday, and for centuries lard was America’s fat.
So I replace the margarine with butter and the shortening with lard. But not the hydrogenated lard sold in supermarkets, which tastes like shortening. I buy pork back fat at Uwajimaya (it’s as cheap as you might expect); it’s a common ingredient in dim sum dumplings. I render the lard using what I think is approximately Paula Wolfert’s method. This is total, unforgivable name-dropping, but I know Paula Wolfert, and she totally loves Iris, who calls her “Friend Paula.” That said, it’s not like Friend Paula made me her lard-rendering apprentice; I learned this from her book.
Cut the pork fat into chunks and put it in the food processor. Process it into a paste. Put it in a saucepan, cover, and put in a 250-degree oven for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. Then strain. After I strain out the cracklings, I usually strain the lard through a paper towel. It will keep in the fridge for at least a couple of months. Use it for making pie crust, cooking quesadillas, roasting potatoes, making tortillas and tamales, or frying doughnuts.
Why isn’t lard more popular? Atkins may be over, but lusting after high-end pork products is still socially acceptable. Paul Bertolli recently quit his job as chef at Oliveto to concentrate on his salami business.
Lard is cheaper than butter and has less saturated fat. Maybe it’s the name, although “lard” has got to be better than the Spanish name, “manteca de cerdo,” which Babelfish translates as “pig butter.” In any case, if you eat pork, there’s really no reason not to have lard in your fridge. You can get pork fat at any Asian grocery, or you can ask your butcher (even a supermarket butcher) to save you some. It makes pastry magically flaky and gives everything else a subtle savory undertone. Luckily, I have plenty of lard left after today’s pasty-making adventure.
One unrelated Thanksgiving story. When we were out visiting there was a bowl of gherkins.
Me: Look, Iris, a gherkin. It’s a tiny pickle.
Iris: (swiping the gherkin) Iris like a gherkin.
Me: Hey, Iris stole my gherkin.
Iris: Not Dada’s gherkin. Iris’s gherkin.