Friday, September 17, 2010

My Adventures in Lard: Onion Pie

No Doubt I will lose some readers over the whole lard thing. I mean, this is a borderline taboo subject for us in the US. But I am game. After doing my own research on my minimally processed lard I have realized that it is not the demon fat that everyone makes it out to be. However, I have heard it does taste kind of porky. I chose not to render my own just to save $3. I went to the Flying Pigs in Union Square Green Market. Their stall is definitely there on Fridays. I have been unable to find it any other day of the week, but that might be me, not them. Flying Pigs charges $6 for an 8 ounce container of beautifully rendered leaf lard. Leaf lard is the cleanest, smoothest and least 'porky' of lards. This no bacon grease!

I wanted to use my lard to make a pie crust. But I was hesitant to make a sweet pie, because Lord, what if that lard tasted like pork chops? I didn't want to sink my teeth into a cherry pork flavored pastry. So I settled on a savory application. And when I saw Onion Pie on Agrigril's blog, I knew that was my pork fat method of delivery.

I made the pie crust one evening when the kids got homemade mac and cheese because well, I hadn't made this pie crust at 5am that morning to have it ready to go, so the kids get a 10 minutes dinner. I made my ole' standby pie recipe, 1 1/3 cups of half white flour, 4 ounces of lard (I have been using butter for the past several years), a pinch of salt and 5-6 tablespoons of ice cold water. As you probably know already, mix the lard in with the flour until it resembles a coarse crumb. Then make a well in the center. Add the 5-6 tablespoons of ice cold water and mix the dough all together. The form a ball and then roll out into a circle shaped pie crust with a rolling pin. So many people told me that crusts made of lard were more flaky and tender. But they weren't kidding. This was my first time working with lard, so here is what I experienced. I had had the fat frozen and thawed in the refrigerator. Although the fat had been stored in the fridge for the last couple of days it came up to room temperature very quickly and my hands melted the fat quite easily. It did smell a little like there was a pork roast roasting down the hall. Nothing overwhelming, actually it was good. the crumb was very soft, whereas every time I use butter I still find little hard cold bits when I mix the flour and the butter. Because the dough was so soft I had to use less water, 5 tablespoons only whereas I have used as many as 7 with a butter crust. (Using so much water always made my mother start. Pie crusts were a big family trade in my house growing up, and my mother believe in less water for sure. But she used shortening, who knew back then?)

The lard melted very readily on my hands, but not like shortening does, if you have memories of that growing up. It seems like it took half the bottle of soap to wash shortening off my hands. Not this. The lard melted in a thin, kind of slippery layer on my hands. Washing it off was ridiculously easy. I feel like this has to be related to its goodness as a healthy unprocessed fat (OMG, did she just say that?).

The dough was so soft that I put it back in the fridge to cool down. I rolled it out after Thing 2 went to bed. Thing 1 stayed up to help. I rolled it out and put it (very gently) into my pie plate. I mixed up 5 eggs with some whole milk and heavy cream. I added salt and pepper to taste and about a cup of grated Gruyere cheese. Too bad that I didn't read the whole recipe about cooking the onions and the pie shell first. I tend to get excited about things and blow through the fine print. I just chopped the onions and placed them raw into the unbaked pie shell the same way I would do when I make a spinach and leek quiche. Anyway. I put the onions into the pie shell and poured the mix of egg and cream and cheese over the top. Then I baked that sucker for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. For all my mistakes (honest mistakes I promise), the pie came out amazingly.

And Don't forget to check out Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays! I love to see what real food her readers are cooking.


  1. Lard unfortunately gets a bad rap in the US but you are right it is one of the healthy fats to cook with. It holds up to high heat and is full of nutrients. I'll have to give this a go with the pie crust.

  2. It is my earnest hope that people will be open to this and try lard, non-hydrogented lard that is. Thanks for being my only comment this week!

  3. Oh! I love using lard! The only lard I've used has been lard that I render myself. I've never come across anyone around here that sells high quality lard. If you can find a farmer who raises pigs on pasture naturally, then you can request the leaf lard from the next butchering. Often they will sell it quite cheap because they normally toss it anyhow. I've used it for sweet and savory dishes. Right now I'm out of lard, but I am rendering about 30 lbs of grass fed beef suet into tallow. Yum!

  4. Oh Hooray!! I am so happy to have some comments today!!

    The farm that provides meat for purchse through my CSA does sell Leaf Lard, but I have to render it myself. If it was half the price of the already rendered lard I buy I would totally do it myself. But it is only say 20-30% cheaper than I can get it at the greenmarket. Not worth it to me. Maybe I can work out a deal with them.

  5. My only objection to lard is that it comes from pigs, which we don't eat for religious reasons.

  6. @Annehueser, I totally understand. I have several friends that don't eat any pork products for the same reason. Fortunately lard is just one of many healthy fats including butter, tallow and olive oil. We are not using lard exclusively, but it's fun to try new things and challenge long held beliefs.

  7. One of my grandmothers always used lard for her pie crusts, even fruit pies and her fabulous custard pie. They never tasted the least bit porky. They were just flaky and delicious. My other grandmother used Crisco shortening. Her pie crusts were also flaky and delicious but they were lighter in texture than the ones made with lard.

    I haven't had success making pie crusts with butter. They always turn out heavy, greasy, and crumbly (rather than flaky). I make pie crusts so infrequently that I'm OK with using vegetable shortening. It's the one and only place I allow hydrogenated fat in my diet. I may have to give lard a try one of these days.

    Thanks for this great topic, COB, and for sharing your own experience using lard.

  8. Glad you tried the onion pie and what a use of lard! This was a delightful post.