Del maiale non si butta via niente, means nothing can go lost from the pig. Growing up in the Italian countryside, I had a sense of what this exactly meant by watching my grandfather curing the pig, the one that he had raised and that the butcher slaughtered for him just the day before. One of the specialties that came up, ready to eat right away and that everyone enjoyed, were ciccioli.
Ciccioli (pronounced cìc-cio-li- I do not think there is a translation here) are bite-size, deep-fried pieces of meat, and actually are – as I later learned – the byproduct of rendering lard.
Ciccioli are a wonderful, rich Italian snack. They are great in the afternoon or as an aperitivo with crackers and a glass of wine, or for dinner with a side of polenta. While they are widely available this time of the year in Italy (especially in the North), they are just impossible to find in the United States.
As I said, they are the byproduct of lard production. This is very exciting! 😛
Lard is basically impossible to find in the United States, and even in Italy it has became less and less popular due to its saturated fat content, although these theories have been lately debated.
Anyway, some classic Italian dishes are traditionally made using lard, but they are nowadays often made with butter instead. But to achieve richness, flavor depth… well, the dishes truly require lard.
One recipe for example is schiacciatine Mantovane (flat, crunchy bread, the size of a hand). Growing up near Mantova, a good schiacciatina was my afternoon snack (and yes, I was spreading Nutella on top, and loved that salty/sweet contrast!). To make schiacciatine, you need lard. This is truly a “must have” ingredient.
Another very typical Mantuan food specialty that requires lard is Sbrisolona, literally crumbly cake (Sbrisolona is coming from the local dialect word brisa, or crumble). It’s the delicious cake symbol of the city, and a very hard cake, that you don’t cut — but break (I am working on the recipe that will be soon on my app).
Long story short, last fall, I wanted to make all those Mantuan recipes that I missed so much. So, with my friend Jared and I decided to give it a try, and we made lard. (We also enjoyed the byproduct: ciccioli).
I was amazed at how easy it was. It will take you about half an hour. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Here is the step-by-step for you.
|Procure yourself some leaf lard. Leaf lard is different from backfat, since it’s coming from the viscera, and it’s softer. Leaf lard melts better than lard coming from the back (in Italy this is actually used to prepare lardo – think of lardo di Colonnata or lardo di Arnaud, or grinded for salami).The leaf lard I could find in Portland, where I live, was from a local company that sells offal and game meat (hello Nicky Usa!). It was of a good quality, but very clean, so not very good to make ciccioli. If you want ciccioli, you should find some with more meat attached. Those pieces are very yummy once cooked in the rendered fat.|
|Cut the lard in 1 inch-piece and place them in a pot. Add some water (1/2 cup to a cup, depending on how much lard you have) and turn on the stove to high, stirring occasionally.|
|Wait until the fat start to render, then lower the heat to medium-low, and start removing the rendered fat with a ladle.|
|Transfer into clean cooling containers.|
|After a few minutes, once the rendered lard has cooled a bit, you can transfer it into jars.|
|Transfer the lard little by little, but be careful, since glass is heat sensitive and can break. Add just an inch of liquid at a time to allow the glass to adjust to the heat. Sift the lard in order to remove small particles.|
|Continue until all fat has rendered.|
|The remaining bits and pieces in the pot that do not melt are the ciccioli.|
|Drain, place on top of paper towel and sprinkle with just a little bit of salt. Enjoy!|
|Let the lard cool at room temperature (it will turn white), and then store in the refrigerator or freezer.
You are done!
Use the lard the same way you would use butter. My friend Jared cooks his morning eggs in it, and swears they are the best eggs ever.
Interest in cooking more odd parts of the pig? Read here what you can do with a pig’s head.