The mention of lard often conjures up an alarming image of clogged arteries leading up to cardiovascular catastrophes. Lard has also been unwitting involved in the recent food safety scandal in Taiwan where mass-produced lard was found to be adulterated with used oil, originally destined for industrial or animal use.
In simpler times prior to the 1960s, everyone consumed lard, freshly home-made from pork loin, not sold in wet markets anywhere. Lard preparation was in fact a requisite skill of all housewives. First, fatty pork was sliced into 1-inch cubes. A batch of them were then placed into an iron wok. Over a slow fire, oil was pressed out from the cubes. Eventually these cubes were fried in their own "juice" and more oil was extracted thus. The oil was then ladled into a ceramic jar, let cool and it would solidify into lard. The meaty residues were known as 豬油渣 (below):
豬油渣 was one of the two favorite snacks for children, e.g., EyeDoc and his cousins, who grew up in Tamsui. Sprinkled with sea salt, it was absolutely delicious, a real treat, as a matter of fact.
The other one was 豬油拌飯 or steamed white rice stirred in with a teaspoonful each of lard and soy sauce; simple after-school snack, yet it truly hit the spot:
Quality fatty pork was on the expensive side and lard was relatively time-consuming to make. So when cheap peanut oil came into being, largely through the 配給 ration system starting in the 50s, housewives began to switch. Now, just like its cousin butter, lard has more or less been banished from our menus. No one vouches for lard any more, even though we all know that traditional Chinese dishes prepared without lard simply taste wrong. Perhaps we need an advocate, someone like the famed TV chef and author, Julia Child (1912-2004) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had never shied away from liberal use of butter, the foundation of French cooking; a direct quote from Julia:.
"In the 1960s, you could eat anything you wanted, and of course, people were smoking cigarettes and all kinds of things, and there was no talk about fat and anything like that, and butter and cream were rife. Those were lovely days for gastronomy, I must say."
Although, as a result of the present lard scandal, home-made lard seems to be making a comeback. There is hope.