Sandwich Sunday: Grilled Lard and Cheese
“Fat is flavor”
How many times have you heard that mantra? If you watch the Food Network – or just happen to have a best friend named “Guy Fieri” – than chances are you’ve heard it more than once. But is fat always flavor? And once more, is it even good flavor?
With all respect to the Food Network and Mr. Fieri (whom I really enjoy) I’ve always smirked when hearing the saying. If fat were really the epitome of flavor, we’d all just be slurping down on sticks of butter all the time, and trimming our pork chops of the actual meat. Obviously there is a lot that goes into flavor, with fat being just one component. But what fats communicate flavor best?
You may remember my recent musings on Niman Ranch bacon. It’s center cut, uncured, and applewood smoked. It’s also helluva expensive. For nearly eight bucks for 12 onces you can bet I didn’t just eat the bacon, but rendered its fat as well. True, I could have bought lard in a store, but would it have been all natural, applewood smoked lard? Goodness no. So, armed with a used pickle jar of rendered center cut bacon fat I set off to discover whether fat really is flavor.
My first target? Why, the humble grilled cheese.
First off, I apologize for the lack of stellar pictures. Grilled Cheese is comfort food 101, and the impulse to eat the equivalent of a big comfy couch comes not beneath a stellar fall afternoon with the natural lighting of the sun, but rather amidst a dreary and damp midnight following a lonely eight-hour night shift. Mediocre photography aside, my Lard and Grilled Cheese Sandwich was based on the standard Kraft recipe for “America’s Favorite Grilled Cheese”. Go ahead and scoff at not grating room-temperature American Cheese or using freshly baked white bread if you’d like, but who am I to tamper with the x-factors of nostalgia and simplicity? And, if fat really is flavor, does it not stand to reason that a tablespoon of lard would lift the thin slices of Kroger bread and Kraft Singles to new heights.
All things considered, it definitely did. After spreading a spoonful of lard of each slice of bread and topping the opposite sides with the cheese, I cooked the slices in the skillet over medium heat as directed. A smokey, woodsy aroma filled my kitchen almost as soon as the slices of fat-covered bread hit the pan, within a minute or two transforming the snow-white hue of the slices into a golden-bronze.
Standing over the pan, I briefly covered in to allow steam to build up to aid in melting the cheese. While steaming a grilled cheese might not be ideal, I had noticed one of my slices passing the golden-bronze stage to more of a golden-dark brown stage during toasting, and knew only by steaming the cheese would I be able to preserve the flavor of the lard and avert any charred aftertaste.
Disaster averted, I pulled the sandwich after the tell-tale signs of ooey-gooiness sprang forth from their starchy refuge. Giddy with anticipation, I dug in with remarkable restraint, intent to detect any subtle differences in outside crunch and richness of flavor that the substitution of lard for butter may have procured. I needed not be so calculated in my initial bites, however, because the sweet and earthly notes of the fat, combined with the crisp but oily exterior of the bread, announced the definite flavor superiority of the lard. Combined with the unmistakable salty goo of the cheese, a delicate balance between high and low-end was struck. Not since the combination of figs and cocoa puffs has a more enjoyable compromise between processed and all natural flavors and textures been unlocked, and my only regret is that I’d yet to discover the application sooner.
I feel like I’ve unlocked a new portal of cooking, and with a third of a jar of rendered Niman Ranch bacon fat left, the possibilities of my next experiment are endless. I know toast is in order, and a bag of frozen sweet potato fries and breaded okra begs to be given life outside of olive oil.