Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lardons and Lecithin

Love my cooking shows! And how they have proliferated in the last couple of years. I remember the days when Julia Child’s “The French Chef” and Graham Kerr’s “The Galloping Gourmet” were the only cooking shows on TV. Then we went a realllllly long time before the advent of the Food Network and its shows.

In fact, part of my love of cooking and thus my career as a culinary mystery writer (Have you read Mission Impastable yet?) can be traced, in part, to the fascination with those programs

As an avid watcher of programs, I am alert to the new-to-me foods highlighted on shows like “Chopped.” It was on “Chopped”, in fact, that I first heard the word lardon used. A great thing about "Chopped" is that the celebrity chef judges will talk about the ingredients in each basket, educating those of us who don’t know what in the heck is in the mystery basket.

Lardon is a chunk of pork fat (from the pig belly) that is used to flavor and bring moisture into cuts of meat being braised on roasted. If you think you see a connection to lard, that fat Grandma used in her pie crusts and to fry chicken, you are correct. Lard is the rendered fat from said pork belly. <Here’s a bonus: render means to extract the fat via heating.>

Traditionally, one would sew lardons, sort of, into the meats to keep them in place while cooking. Alternatively, sometimes, cooks crisp up lardons to add to salads, dressings, or to layer flavors in dishes like quiche, omelets, or beef stews.

Sometimes you’ll see a recipe calling for bacon lardons. That does not mean a strip of bacon. It means the fat only from that strip of bacon. And skinny bacon strips aren’t good for extracting usable pieces of fat. Get the thickest bacon you can find and trim away the meat, keeping the lardon for your dish.

Today’s second term is one you’ve seen a million times if you read food labels. Hold it. Not IF you read food labels; WHEN you read food labels.

Lecithin is a fatty substance that can come from plant or animal sources. Its main purpose is to emulsify (allow things to blend that might not otherwise) ingredients. A tablespoon of soybean lecithin (a vegetable oil) has 100 grams of fat and 763 calories. Lecithin is often a component in non-stick cooking sprays since it also helps prevent food from sticking.

Using lecithin-based products (like cooking sprays) means less fat is used than what would normally be the case. As both an emulsifier and a lubricant, many cooking folks like that fewer calories are consumed when coating cook surfaces.

Lecithin is considered to be a harmless compound. Cooks wanting to use whole wheat flour only for baking bread find lecithin gives them the soft, airiness of white flour bread. It provides the moisture that seems to make the difference between dense and light.

Food for thought (so to speak): Check your paint cans. Lecithin is used as a paint emulsifier. Yummy!

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