Lard (How to render Pork Fat)

I’m not normal.

You know how I know this?

Because, even though I just came back from Cape Town, I feel the urge to tell you about rendering pork fat into good ole’ lard.

Because, when I’m stressed about writing and can’t seem to find the right words for a couple projects, the only thing that makes my fingers fly off the keyboard typing are these words, which will soon describe nothing of importance, unless you find fat important (I do).


Because, when I saw the huge plastic bag hoisted up from behind the counter of the butcher shop, the plastic bag that not only contained pork bones for a broth but also sheets of pork fat and skin, I clapped my hands with joy.


Because, I happily, attentively, patiently waited for over a day for my pork skin to cook down in the slow cooker, eventually ladling the residual product into small glass jars like a mad scientist.


Because, instead of using olive oils and coconut oils and whatever other “healthy” oils are available, I choose to use my own, homemade lard.

Because, the word “LARD” is as funny to me as the word “FART” but also sexy in a way that farts are most definitely not.

Because, I couldn’t wait to take pictures of pork fat cradled in a small wooden spoon.


How to render pork fat into lard

According to Paleo guru and our new household hero Robb Wolf (or rather, an author on his website),

Leaf lard is from the interior of the animal near the kidneys and back fat is from, well – the back of the pig, between the loin and the skin. If you purchase back fat it will almost always have a little bit of red meat layered with the white fat while leaf lard tends to be more purely white in color through and through. Both types of fat are delicious and versatile but back fat does often have a richer flavor that may arguably make it somewhat less suitable for a few particular purposes such as certain desserts or baked goods.

Most recipes instruct the use of back fat, and I agree with this. I had to actually pick through my pile of scraps to find the ones with the most fat, but hey, this is Africa.

If you ask for back fat from the butcher in the states, you will most likely receive your pieces, nice thicky fatty pieces with a thin layer of skin. Still, no matter how thin this skin, it will seem as thick as leather when you try to cut it at home. Therefore, ask your butcher to cut it for you into small pieces, even minced, if possible, as opposed to doing in online. Especially if you’ve got dull knives, and dull kitchen shears. Trust me, these fingers I’m typing with were nearly gone on several occasions.

I’ve also read online that the smaller the pieces, the more fat you’ll get off of the skin.

Anyway, on with the instructions:

  1. Start with any increment of pork fat, but at least a pound, up to 5-6 pounds (or really, as much as your crock pot can handle), cut into pieces.
  2. Pour a small amount of water, about 1/4 cup into a crock pot. This will prevent the skin from sticking to the bottom, but does not need to be an exact amount.
  3. Place your pork skin and fat into the crock. Set on low to medium heat and let the crock pot work its magic.
  4. If possible, check the crock pot once an hour or so, stirring if possible, to ensure even cooking of the skin.
  5. The fat will slowly start to melt into a puddle of oil. My lard took over 10 hours to render, but just keep your eye on it. It helps to spoon out the fat as it cooks down, straining through a fine-meshed sieve as you go.

This Lard will keep on the counter top if you prefer as such, but can last several months in the fridge.This rendered fat also freezes extremely well!



Pass the Prosciutto >> Florentine Memories (stuffed chicken breast recipe)


>>>>> A very big Asante Sana (thanks a lot!) to Parma Ham for this sponsored post

Firenze, 2003. My first international trip alone, for a summer study program of Italian language and culture. Which meant language class in the mornings and exploring Florence in the afternoons. Oh, and food and dancing in the evenings, of course, which were the universally agreed-upon, unofficial coursework.


I don’t remember a lot of Italian language anymore–that brain space seems to have been crowded over with other semi-useless information, such as how long Challerhocker cheese ages for and the translation of items on a Chinese dim sum menu. Eh, priorities. What I do distinctly remember, however, were my first tastes in Florence. I don’t have the photos, but I have memories.

I remember, very vividly, the first caffè I stepped into, after checking my cobblestone-destroyed bag into a hostel. That cavernous, industrial-looking caffè—before the industrial-looking cafe/bar was a thing in the US. The long, marble, L-shaped bar, stacked two deep with Italians ordering their morning shots of coffee like stockbrokers brokering on Wall Street. I like to think that I faked it well enough as I boldly strode through the crowd of italians, ordering a macchiato—which, up until that point, I thought was a sweet, frothy, rich drink (a la starbucks’ Caramel Macchiato). Anyway, I savored my first sip of jarringly potent milk-dotted espresso, and lingered that morning far longer than any other Italian. So much for faking it.



After getting sufficiently buzzed off the one shot of Italian espresso, I wandered the streets of Florence, beginning what is becoming a lifetime of getting lost in foreign cities. Back and forth random streets, sometimes accidentally on the same street as before. I noted many a sidewalk cafe, bakeries, delis, more coffee shops. And many sidewalk sandwich storefronts. On my long meandering walk, I made sure to note the selections of each of these and the varying degrees of freshness of their offerings. Not that I could have found my way back—not intentionally, at least, not yet. After much thought and deliberation, I picked one vendor, and from him I ordered a panini in my broken, level-2-of-American-University Italian. Prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, and olive oil, smushed between a piece of bread that had been cut lengthwise through the middle. Not grilled, like they do to the panini in the US, but fresh, like the do the panini in Italy. The olive oil was so liberally poured into the sandwich that the wax paper wrapped around the sandwich started to weep with a yellowish-greenish hue.

The sandwich was crudely re-wrapped in another sheet of white wax paper, and for several Euro, it was all mine. I was handed the sandwich and a few napkins; not even a paper bag to take away. I can’t tell you where I stayed that night, or the names of two of my roommates on the program that summer, but I do remember that sandwich, for its rich and fruity olive oil, the meaty yet pillowy mozzarella, the spicy arugula—but most of all, because of that prosciutto, my first real taste of prosciutto.



Ever since, I’ve been a sucker for cured meats, prosciutto in particular. I was excited when Honest Cooking invited me to participate in this little project, which asked nothing more than to use Prosciutto di Parma in a dish. I’ve settled with a great recipe that I’ve recently invented, which works well for a dinner for two or a dinner for ten. For larger parties, you can do most of the work ahead of time, holding off until your guests arrive to pop it into the oven for the last 25 minutes to finish off.


This recipe takes a classic French-inspired American favorite, the Chicken Cordon Bleu, and adds an Italian twist. Swirled with prosciutto di parma, mozzarella cheese, and baked with tomato sauce, it really does encapsulate the flavors that I tasted not only on my first day in Florence, but throughout that summer in Italy.


Follow Parma Ham on Twitter for a chance to win $50 worth of the world’s most famous ham. Click on the banner below to participate. This post is a collaboration between Peeps From Abroad and Parma Ham.

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My Florence, aka: Chicken rolls with Prosciutto, Spinach, and Mozzarella

  • 4 skewers, for holding the chicken rolls together.
  • 4 large individual boneless chicken breasts, about 16-20 oz. (500g)  **if you’re able to swing it, buy the breasts in twos, still connected in the middle, like are available at my butcher shop here. Ask for the breasts to be butterflied by your butcher or meat counter
  • 1 bunch spinach, about 3 cups of leaves, packed
  • 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 20 slices prosciutto, approx. 3.5-4 oz
  • 1 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  1. First, soak 4 small skewers in water to use later. Preheat oven to 380°F.
  2. Prep the chicken breasts. Rinse and pat breasts dry. Place a cutting board over a kitchen towel on the counter, then lined with 2 layers of saran wrap. Place 2 individual chicken breasts side by side in the center, just slightly overlapping. Cover with another long piece of saran wrap. Using a meat hammer, mallet, or my weapon of choice–last night’s wine bottle–pound the meat flat, until only about 1/8-inch thick. Some parts of the chicken may be thinner than others and some may rip, but don’t worry about this. Just make sure the middle stays together.
  3. Remove the top layer of saran wrap temporarily, adjusting parts where necessary, and season liberally with up to 1/2 teaspoon of salt and plenty of ground pepper. Replace saran wrap and transfer the entire thing (both layers of saran wrap and all) onto a large baking sheet. Repeat with second set of breasts.
  4. Transfer the baking sheet with both pounded breasts to the freezer. This will firm up the meat a little and make it easier to “stuff” and roll later on.
  5. Now prep the filling. First, shred mozzarella and set aside.
  6. Next, slice the onion and red bell pepper into long thin pieces. In a saute pan, heat about 1 Tbsp. olive oil until hot and add onions. Cook for 3 minutes, and add bell pepper. Cook for another 7 minutes, until onion and bell pepper mixture turn completely soft.
  7. While the onion and bell peppers finish cooking, boil a small pot of water. When water is boiling, drop in spinach for about 45 seconds. Strain, and rinse under cold water. Squeeze dry–you’ll only have a handful after it’s boiled down–and chop.
  8. Set up your ingredients around a large cutting board, keeping everything at hand, including the skewers. Working one at a time, take the pounded breasts out of the freezer and transfer to the cutting board. Align the meat so the longer side is towards you, discard the top layer of saran wrap. Layer 10 pieces of prosciutto (or 1-2 ounces) directly on top of this layer of chicken. Next, on the leftmost two-thirds of the chicken, spread half the onion and red pepper mixture, patting down and leaving about a 1/2-inch border. Place half of the chopped spinach on top, also patting down, and then a couple heaping tablespoons of mozzarella cheese, also patting down (check out that gif below, woooohoo!).
  9. Turning the chicken and stuffing counter-clockwise 90° so the end with the stuffing is closer to you, begin to roll. As you roll, you may peel the chicken away from the saran wrap meanwhile tucking the bottom end tightly like you are rolling a yoga mat (I’m assuming here that this makes sense). Make sure to keep the ingredients compact as you go. You can use the saran wrap to lift up the breast and make it easier to roll over itself. After the first tuck or two of meat, fold in the left and right sides so your filling doesn’t completely fall out of the sides (this doesn’t have to be perfect). Because you’ve popped the meat in the freezer, this should hold a little easier. Continue rolling, as tightly as you can, keeping mind of the sides too. When you reach the end, use the skewers to hold the rolled chicken. If you don’t have skewers, you can use toothpicks, otherwise just carefully place the meat seam-side down.
  10. In a cast iron skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. When oil is hot, place chicken (seam side down) in the pan. Sear for two minutes until browned, then use tongs to roll over. Sear for two more minutes, flip, and repeat one last time.
  11. Coat both breasts with tomato sauce and, if you wish, sprinkle a couple ounces of additional shredded cheese over the top. Cover with a lid and bake for 25 minutes.


psst- remember when I talked about simple recipes a couple days ago? Yeah, this is a perfect example of one that’s NOT.

What we’ve all been waiting for

Visit the original version of this article over at Honest Cooking

I wish I could say we explored all of Mexico City by foot in the one week we were there. I wish I could say I ate at hotspots like Pujol or Izote and visited amazing markets like this one, or went into the home of an abuela and learned to make mole. sigh.

I wish I could have attended an amazing wedding.

Oh, wait, I did. (I guess I can only wish for so much, right?)

Despite staying in a posh, hotel-ridden neighborhood, the DiploMan and I were, of course, most drawn to the least decorated strip of Polanco’s center which housed a fruit market and neighboring hole-in-the-wall taquerias. Rather “underdeveloped” in comparison to its fellow restaurants and bars in the area. And lest I forget to mention yet again, that Coffee Bean down the street.

After recovering from a flu that left me, so frustratingly, without an appetite for the first three days I was in town, I was finally feeling well enough to stomach my pre-ordained craving for tacos. Under a glowing azure overhang, as we approached the rotisserie on the sidewalk that skewered a chunk of al pastor meat, looked past the open griddle and taco counter, I knew we were in the right place when I spotted a small cluster of formica fold-out tables and flimsy plastic school chairs.

I don’t know if it’s living in China that’s changed this perception, but those formica tabletops really did set off some nerve  in my brain, alerting my food memory banks for the potential of a great meal to be had. Though Polanco’s posh hotels, well-dressed women in heels and beautiful architectural gems had quite the appeal, THIS is what had enticed me about Mexico, this is what I had been waiting for since we landed.

When I spotted the takeout tacos in trays waiting to go out to hungry customers and caught a whiff of the spicy meat and fragrant onions, I knew for certain we were in the right place.

Kitchen in the front and seating in the back is a layout often seen in small hole-in-the-wall eateries abroad, where Health Inspection does not reign supreme. It’s a change of pace that is quite welcome in my book, for the displayed kitchen serves as a demo booth for the heart and soul of the menu.

Clearly, the heart and soul of this ‘restaurant’ was tacos. Tacos with chicken, tacos with al pastor, tacos with steak, with cheese, without cheese, so many options for tacos!!! Equipped with a griddle, two chopping stations and an antiquated cash register, the presumed brother and sister duo took orders (her) and cooked tacos (him) with automated frenzy. Many of their customers ate their orders perched on the narrow wooden “bar” across from the griddle, others took their tacos to go, with many a taco quickly disappearing as soon as they stepped onto the street.

A few clientele, mostly off-shift workers from neighboring restaurants and old Mexican men who seemed to be reminiscing of their youth over several bottles of beer each (and us), chose to sit in the rear of the restaurant, at the aforementioned cluster of formica tables.

Posted on the wall were large, bright cardstock that acted as menus, in addition to flimsy laminated and bound menus that were informally distributed to the table. Foregoing what was put in front of us, the DiploMan and I, along with the rest of my family, were mostly drawn to the bright orange display featuring the Orden de Tacos, five tacos of our choosing for $33 pesos (about $2.50USD). With cheese, a modest $53 ($4USD).

A revelation was had when I asked about the Campechanos, a mix of chorizo and steak. Consider my mind blown.

In total, the five of us splurged on five Orden de Tacos along with an order of Birria– all supplemented by the homemade green and red salsas, a bottomless supply of limes, and a large bowl of chopped onion and cilantro.

The tacos arrived at the table, double corn tortillas generously piled with seasoned meat and cheese, one piled atop the other barely accommodated on a regular-sized plate. Our orders of tacos con queso were topped with a griddle-melted pile of Mexican cheese, which was not unlike a less-salty version of Mozzarella. The issue of cheese on tacos, commonly referred to as Gringo style, is an area that is often left wanting in my dining experiences. These tacos certainly did not disappoint nor were they wanting, and if anything there was- dare I say it- too much cheese (!!). Then the Birria arrived, an oily, fragrant stew of mystery meat (lamb? veal?) waiting to be stuffed into their own little tortilla pockets, a lovely milder, warm, and soupy counterpart to the tacos.

What ensued was what often happens when simple, good food is placed in front of individuals- a chorus of munching and grunts of approval, the swapping of plates and exchanging of tacos (one chorizo/steak for one pollo? Deal.), some swooning and even rolling of eyes from delight, and definitely minimal conversation. If they hadn’t known it before, as I surely had, this was definitely a meal that we had all been waiting for.


Down to the grind

It’s no secret that I love pork. So, consider it lucky that I’m in a country where pork is abundant, featured, and everywhere. In Chinese, when you ask for meat on a menu, the servers will generally point out the pork section. Vegetarians beware- asking for ‘no meat’ will generally give you servings of chicken, fish, and sometimes even beef or lamb. To us, it’s crazy. To them, it’s annoying because you didn’t specify.

Luckily my stomach is able to handle anything that has been thrown my way. Some friends here aren’t so lucky. To them, it’s a gamble ordering anything on a menu, and meat especially. It’s something always in the back of my mind while I shop for meat in China- which is why I don’t do it too often. I veer away from seafood completely (with the exception of one salmon stand), but for some reason I’m not as hesitant when it comes to pork. With all the food scares circulating in the media, I’m not sure who to trust, and in fact I doubt the big supermarket chains just as much as I doubt the small individual stands at the wet market.

Smaller is better? Probably a myth engrained in my head from farmers’ market shopping in the states, I actually don’t know how much weight that carries in a country such as China.

In all my trips around the markets, I’ve seen cuts of meat laid out for display- shoulders, loins, ribs, trotters, even whole pigs’ heads, affirming three things. First, that the Chinese love their pork. Second, that health inspection is a completely different beast in this Country. Third, they really do eat everything down here in the South. Hearts, intestines, livers, weird things I’m unable to distinguish- they’re all out too. But wait, what about ground pork, how do I get that stuff?

What about those little green trays with square patties of ground meat wrapped in plastic? Completely non-existant. But here is where the art of the Butcher enters. Here is where the cleavers and the wooden blocks and the hooks come flying in. This is what it’s been like around the world for centuries, in the agoras of Greece and the markets of Italy. It’s where the modern-day butchering trend in the states likes to be, without the tattooed rock star butchers, the constant nagging of the FDA, and the gleamy sparkly facades and logos that new butchers market themselves with.

If you want pork skin, you get it. If you want a rack of ribs, you get it (as long as you get to the stand before they hack it all up to pieces). If you want ground pork, you just ask. Ground pork is meant to be a balance of lean meat and fatty meat, with a grind size appropriate to your dish. It’s meant to be fresh, a raw peachy-pink color swirled with speckles of white. Certainly not red, brown, or anything in between. I’ve learned all this very recently, in being asked how I want my meat, and seeing it handed over to me in a simple plastic bag. A plastic bag that isn’t even tied up unless I do it myself. I really have so much to learn around here.

Marrow Soup, and other Offal Bits

Bone Marrow was never exotic to me. When I was younger, I would watch as my parents sucked the marrow out of pork bones after they were cooked in soup for hours. I followed suit, and pretty soon a meal of pork soup was a cacophony of sucking and slurping. Today, salted, roasted marrow bones with a parsley salad and crunchy toast is one of my favorite menu items- if it’s on the menu, I’m sure to order it. (Landmarc at the Time Warner Center has my favorite, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try Fergus Henderson’s at some point in my life)

As you know by now, Tainan has no shortage of good eats (if you don’t know, read the last few blog entries). Some restaurants in the West are famous for their nose-to-tail dining (I’m looking at you, Incanto, Cochon, St. John’s), but this idea has been around for centuries in Asia.

One eatery in Tainan highlights this concept extremely well. On display is a bevy of pigs parts- stomach, livers, intestines, hearts, brains, kidneys- sauteed and in clear soups, there is so much offal that I wonder where the actual meat of the pig goes.

Laoban, or “Boss”, and his wife have set up so the cooking happens in the front, and the seating behind. With a steady stream of customers requesting their parts and how they want them prepared, it’s amazing that Laoban never gets any two parties’ dishes confused. In fact, while we were there, continuous streams of four or five parties would be sitting at a time, waiting for their meals, and each order came out just as quickly and accurately as the one before it.

Since it was getting late in the evening, we ordered a couple of snacks- though I suppose in the States you would rarely call this a “snack”- pig livers tossed in sesame oil and a heap of sliced ginger, as well as a bone marrow soup.

I didn’t care for the pig livers all that much, but I could have drank a whole bowl of the soup all to myself. At first, the soup looked like a cloudy, fatty broth-and just for a moment I thought we had someone’s leftover broth given to us. Not exactly the most appealing nor photogenic of the dishes I encountered that evening. Running a spoon through, strands of white worm-shaped globs were picked up, and once again I was briefly mortified, until I was told this was bone marrow. I had never before seen marrow stripped so naked, out of the bone that I thought was necessary to contain it.

The marrow soup tasted delicious- each bit of marrow like a pat of butter or cream that would not melt in the warm and porky soup. It brought me right back to my childhood dinner table, just, without the slurping sounds.

If you’re feeling adventurous, and if you like offal- you’ve got to check out this stand in Tainan.

Aming Pig Restaurant 阿明豬心冬粉


72 Bao An Road

Tainan, Taiwan

Open 6pm-2am

The Butcher

Took a trip to a wet market on the other side of town this weekend. A new wet market, one that just opened up a few months ago, in the new part of town. In a culture where I think of wet markets as having existed for ages, with their stinky gutters and grimy walls and dingy lights, it’s novel for me to encounter a brand new wet market, with stainless steel counters and plexiglass display cases and clean concrete floors. This one was two stories, the meat and fish market on the top floor and all the vegetables on the basement level (though, shouldn’t it be reversed?). Since it was a humid and rainy weekend, even a late Saturday afternoon heeded small crowds and fewer vendors. But the meat was fresh, the fruit was stacked in pyramids, the dried goods were bundled by the bag-ful, and the vegetables were piled high- just as you would expect at any good market.

The highlight? There was one pig being broken down at one of the stations, so obviously we stopped there. We bought several pounds of fatty pork shoulder which we brought home to braise in a soy-five spice type marinade (hong shao rou). I’m inclined to say it’s the best meat I’ve bought at the market to date, and even though this place is very out of my way, I’m excited to go back in a couple months to see what it has in store.