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?

Guy, your thoughts?

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?

Does a better, more expensive bacon make better, tastier fat?

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.

Mr. Kraft, meet Mr. Lard. Mr. Lard, meet Mr. Kraft

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.

The ingredient team

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.

"Like buttah" only with a better smell and mouthfeel.

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.

I quote Jingle all the Way: That's a really good sign

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.

Yes, I violated an unwritten rule of food blogging. But can you blame me for taking a bite?

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.

19 comments on “Sandwich Sunday: Grilled Lard and Cheese

  1. Ryan says:

    I hate you Guy Fieri and your stupid bleached hair and pinky rings and catchphrases and armbands and sunglasses and “Kulinary Gangsta” tattoo.

    Felt good to get that off my chest.

  2. Keith says:

    I hate Guy Fieri with a white, hot, “fieri” passion. I think most foodies do… he’s the ultimate example of style over substance, quantity over quality. Just as America takes a step forward in culinary excellence, there’s Guy Fieri and Sandra Lee, grabbing her by the arms and pulling her back.

    Also, the “Bacon Revolution” (as I call it) is in full swing – perhaps even on a downswing after massive popularity over the past few years, fuelled mainly by the blogosophere and and some very creative restaurant owners, especially in New York. I know I’ve upped my bacon intake riding the coattails of this enthusiasm – and boy, I couldn’t be happier.

    Finally, fat quite literally does equal flavor – this isn’t some mantra Guy Fieri made up, I’ve been hearing this since the infancy of Food Network from the likes of long-forgotten culinary geniuses – with actual culinary training – like Mario Batali, Sara Moulton, Alton Brown, Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson and the crazy-awesome Japanese version of Iron Chef – who have been given a back seat, or removed from the network altogether, to make room for d-bags like Guy Fieri. The only people who deny that fat equals flavor are vegans…

  3. Rodzilla says:

    I’m with Ryan. I hate Guy Fieri, but I pressed on. Then I saw the Kraft singles..come on man. I’m not saying you need to be using some triple aged Gruyere at $25/lb, but they’ve got Land-O-Lakes pre sliced in ready to go packages at the deli.

    Agree with the fat is flavor nonsense. Sure, it can be a wonderful flavor addition, but it can also overwhelm everything.

    • Adam says:

      I think, if you read closley, that the point was to use what was in my kitchen at the time to make a combination of high and low end products. Let me know how that Land-O-Lakes experiment works out on your end.

  4. Mikey F Baby says:

    It looks good to be. Culinary Gangster style

  5. Keith says:

    I think that fat, in general, has an unfair stigma of having no redeeming qualities. Probably because it’s called fat. But like a lot of things, like salt and sugar, are crucial in the preparation of tasty food – in moderation of course. People just tend to have an all-or-none approach to just about anything.

    While I overwhelmingly prefer real cheese over the yellow, plastic-y, processed food stuff, it’s meltability is undeniable, and I often find myself reaching for it when I make grilled cheese or burgers.

    Of course I’ve spent considerable time trying to uncover ways of melting real cheddar and provolone in the same way American does. I recently read a great article on this very topic on Serious Eats – if you don’t mind me linking to another food blog:

    http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2011/07/the-burger-lab-how-to-make-any-cheese-melt-like-american-almost.html

    I hate Guy Fieri so much…. what do you enjoy about him, Adam?

  6. Sandy says:

    Looks like I’m in good company with my disdain for Guy Ferari.

  7. Adam says:

    Wow, forget it. Way to completly miss the point, everyone. I guess I should have called this post “Lets all just rip Guy Fieri.”

    • Chefprotoss says:

      Anyone who gets people thinking and talking about food is ok in my book, so Guy gets a pass from me. Sandra though…

      Also, you should try searing some fish, any kind of filet, and after you get your sear, toss in bacon fat and some thyme into the pan and baste the fish with a spoon until cooked. Squeeze on some lemon and enjoy. Don’t add ketchup though. =P

  8. Seeker says:

    My mom used to make grilled cheese this way for me when I was a kid because it was cheap, easy and saved on butter. Frugal life lessons. I’ll have to try that again sometime.

    As for Guy Fieri, I find him entertaining. Food personalities are more entertaining when they’re unique or have a gimmick, and his little jokes and sometimes-awkward playfulness made the show better. As for “fat being flavor”, I heard it coined first by Alton Brown and while it is true, I prefer the texture of meat over fat.

  9. George says:

    Guy FERRY (not “Fieri”, which he changed it to in order to seem more Italian back when he went into the pizza business) is worthless.

    Other than that, nice post.

  10. Rodzilla says:

    I wouldn’t call land-o-lakes “high-end” or really any American cheese for that matter (see Kenji’s article) I was just recommending you use actual cheese rather than “Pasteurized Process Cheese Food”. I am a sucker for velveeta though.

    but let’s get back to the main point of your post – Guy Fieri.

  11. SPM says:

    Really can’t stand Guy Fieri. This oaf is more interested in showing the camera how much he thinks he knows about food and cooking (so you turning that into a little roux/so you got some 80/20 ground beef/so you steam the burger that way so the cheese melts) than the substance behind the food itself. With that being said his ridiculous appearance doesn’t help his cause.

  12. Charlotte says:

    Try frying up some pancakes in bacon fat. It’ll change your life. And possibly also shorten it.

  13. Craig Snyder says:

    Serious?

  14. Jay says:

    Wow, I gotta try this! Lard and bacon fat are not the same thing. Lard is made of pork or beef fat and is very bland. If you cook your sandwich with plain lard it wont taste like much. Bacon fat [bacon grease], however, contains the flavors from curing, smoking and salting the bacon goes through. The grease gives that flavor to whatever you are cooking. My grandma was an expert in cooking with bacon grease, she never used anyhting else! She lived to be 86 and was skinny as a rail.

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