For the Love of Lardo

Chef Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita revels in the melty goodness of her favorite topper.
Leslie Kelly  |   February 2013   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita Kirkland Seattle
Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita

Lard used to be a dirty word. And its Italian cousin, lardo, would prompt puzzled looks followed by the inevitable “What’s that?” But now, lardo—cured pork fat—is cool, thanks to chefs such as Cafe Juanita’s Holly Smith. She has long adored the snowy white stuff for how well it stands alone or adds a little pork character to dishes. 

Where she gets it: Smith and her hard-working Kirkland restaurant crew make their own lardo from Red Wattle hogs, using the thick rump fat, or as she calls it, “the pig’s muffin top.” It cures in seasonings and sea salt for more than two months. Like gravlax and other preparations, no cooking is involved. When the lardo is ready to go, pig purists cheer the contorni (side dish) presentation, thin slices presented on a board with bread. “It should melt on your tongue,” she says. “There should be no chew.”

How she uses it: Lardo’s true beauty is revealed as a topper on everything from salmon and spot prawns to rich risotto. “We put it on everything, and it kind of melts by the time it gets to the table; it almost looks like a veil,” she says. “It just adds a little bit of porkiness. Use it anyplace you like bacon. It’s more subtle.”

Then, there’s whipped lardo and chef Holly’s favorite bite: “You put a smear of lardo on the plate and a thin slice of Wagyu beef on top and then finish it with uni [sea urchin].”

Where to find it: You don’t have to make your own lardo—Smith suggests shopping for it at DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine in Pike Place Market, which sells Iberico de Bellota brand from Spain for $24.99 per pound.

Spot Prawn Bruschetta with Marjoram and Lardo
Recipe by Chef Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita in Kirkland

Serves 4 guests

16 Alaskan spot prawns, peeled and cleaned
1/4 pound butter cooked with prawn shells, strained and refrigerated

2 Tablespoons picked marjoram, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons garlic, finely minced

Pinch of cayenne, to taste

Kosher salt, to taste

Juice of half a lemon, to taste

4 slices bread (Holly uses potato bread), ideally 1/4–1/2 inch thick

12 slices lardo, as thin as possible (on a slicer is best)

*Optional whipped lardo (whip in food processor until smooth)

Heat sauté pan over medium heat. Add prawn butter to melt. 

Begin grilling bread slices to make bruschetta. 

Season prawns generously with kosher salt and lightly with black pepper. Add prawns to melted prawn butter. Add garlic and stir to distribute evenly in the butter. Cook prawns gently on one side for 1 minute. Add marjoram and season back side of prawns with kosher salt as desired. Add a dash cayenne pepper.

Flip prawns and let rest. Turn off heat and let the prawns rest. The more gently you cook these, the better; try to avoid tight curling of the prawns.

When bread is grilled on both sides, if desired brush with whipped lardo lightly.

After removing prawns from the heat, add lemon juice to taste and then arrange prawns on bruschetta; spoon garlic-marjoram-lemon butter over them. To finish, drape 3 slices of lardo per bruschetta. Serve immediately.

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