I have this thing with lardo. I want to help you embrace it. It is so misunderstood. All of this clean eating lark, well it is a bit depressing, isn’t it? All of that unnecessary deprivation, where is the joy? I am not suggesting you go out and eat fried chicken for a living (although certainly you must eat good fried chicken once in a while), what I am saying is, it is important that we just enjoy eating, eat what we like, and what our body needs and enjoys. Throw off all the anxiety related to it, eat well if you can (many can’t), and take pleasure in it. If we don’t eat well we suffer, we become ill, we can become neurotic when we obsess about the details. Walk a little bit to balance it out, dance occasionally. Life is good, right?
I try to embrace a balanced diet, and eat a little meat, I try not to eat a lot of it. I love vegetables. I adore fruit, I love salads, I love lightness. I adore fish, and avocados. I try everything and build a naughty list of stuff that I won’t try again. Before avocado toast was trendy, people considered it too high fat to have regularly at home. I always did because it is delicious, and it is healthy. Those fats are good for your brain, and for your soul. I love lardo too. Lardo? It is pure cured aged pork fat that you eat by the slice. Bear with me.
There is always some confusion about lardo because people confuse it with lard. (Pork) lard in Italy is called strutto, and it is used for many things including piadina, those lovely Emilia Romagna flatbreads (which I have a recipe for, and which I will share later on). Lardo is charcuterie, or more accurately salumi (which is different to salami). Salumi is an umbrella term for Italian cured meat products, predominantly but not exclusively made of pork. It gets more confusing when you see that you can buy lardo in a jar that is spreadable, or when you come across pesto Modenese (a lardo based pesto made with lardo, rosemary and garlic). These are made with lardo, but look like lard. It doesn’t help that almost everyone translates lardo as lard. It just isn’t the same thing.
Lardo is the jewel in the salumi crown for me. The cured back fat of a pig, a pure white block of cured slippery gorgeous fat, flecked with herbs and very occasionally striped pink with a little meat. It is usually served sliced so fine that the minute it hits your tongue, it succumbs and releases its gorgeousness, it lasts just a minute, it is divine. Lardo has incredible flavour and texture and there are many regional variations to explore.
If you already know lardo, it is likely that you know or have tried lardo di Colonnata, a Tuscan lardo that has been made since Roman times in the hamlet of Colonnata in the Apuan Alps. Lardo di Colonnata has an IGP just as parmesan does (Protected Geographical Indication – it can’t be made anywhere else in Europe and called this, by law). Carrara marble is also mined here, and lardo di Colonnata has been traditionally cured with salt and fresh herbs in large carrara marble boxes over a period of months. I really need to visit. This is no ordinary pig fat, and it demands our respect and attention.
There are many more types of lardo, and one of the joys of Italy is that you can order things like a lardo selection as an appetiser (pictured above in Roscioli in Rome last year). It is also relatively inexpensive, and once you vac pac it, it is absolutely fine to take home (within the EU anyway). I brought four types of lardo home from my last trip. Pre sliced, as you need it really thin to appreciate it as it is. Unless of course you intend it as an ingredient for pesto Modenese or similar, then you can just chop it. I love lardo so much, I am contemplating investing in a small meat slicer so that I can slice it finely at home.
It has been a fun week at home of lardo play and indulgence. Lardo is wonderful on toast, yielding slightly on it, but still standing strong. Lardo makes the most perfect soldiers for your dippy boiled egg when draped over sourdough toast and cut accordingly. I have covered my breakfast egg (mainly the yolk) with fine slices of lardo and allowed it to gently protect it as it cooks. This is bacon(ish) meets egg in a delicate and intrinsic fashion. The lardo shelters the egg and then becomes part of it. For me, this dish is an expression of love.
You can do almost anything with lardo. Lardo is divine when allowed to melt into a steak as you finish cooking it, just on top, just as it finishes. Better still on the BBQ. I made lardo chicken wings recently which were as good as you are now imagining, I also covered a spatchcock chicken in lardo and allowed it to roast tenderly. For a speedy evening meal for one, spatchcock a poussin, season it and cover it with a lardo blanket before roasting it with some bright veg on the side. It will be done and on your plate in 45 minutes. One of the best things about poussin is the ratio of skin to flesh is perfect. Lots of crispy skin.
Go on. Do it. And enjoy!
Buying lardo: any good Italian deli will have it, and you can source it easily online. The Ham & Cheese Co in Bermondsey Spa Market have a particularly good one.
Recipe: Spatchcock Lardo Roast Poussin
enough finely sliced lardo (of your choice) to cover it – I used 6 slices
a little sweet hot chilli flakes (like Calabrian chilli, pasilla chilli or Turkish pul biber)
fresh rosemary, the needles from one sprig, chopped really fine
veg of your choice – I used baby courgettes, tomatoes and peas
Preheat the oven to 200 deg C.
Spatchcock your poussin (or have your butcher do it) by cutting out the breast bone using a sharp knife or poultry scissors. This is the bone in the centre of the two breasts (I know, obviously but just in case!). Press it flat with your hand and put it in an oiled ovenproof tray that will accommodate it.
Sprinkle a little chilli and the rosemary on the poussin. There is no need to salt it as the lardo is quite salty already. Cover the poussin with a layer of lardo and put it in the oven to roast. It will take 35 – 40 minutes. It will be done when the juices run clear, as with a chicken. Baste it every ten minutes or so and keep adding that lardo flavour to the poussin.
After about 25 minutes add the veg and spoon the fat over them. You can roast them separately in olive oil if you prefer.
When the poussin is done let it rest for 5 minutes. Serve on top of the veg with a very light sprinkle of salt, it won’t need much. How good is that crispy lardo? I can still taste it.