It may have taken a backseat in the fat van to make room for artery-friendly, monounsaturated fats rich in oleic fatty acid, such as olive oil, but fatback can do things other fats can't. When used as barding, or wrapped around lean meats and roasts during baking, fatback adds moisture and aids in browning; when rendered into lard and used in pies and pastries it produces light, flaky crusts; and when you salt and roast its skin it crisps up into chicharones, also known as pork cracklings. Fatback is inexpensive, but not commonly found in supermarkets.
Things You'll Need
Plastic food film
Sieve or colander
Food-storage containers or 1-quart glass jars
Rimmed baking sheet
Place the fatback in the freezer and heat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit or set it to the "Warm" setting. Pour about 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of a Dutch oven.
Take the fatback from the freezer after about 30 minutes and cut it into small pieces, about 1/2 inch square or less, and transfer it to the Dutch oven. Place the Dutch oven on the center rack of the oven.
Stir the fatback after 30 minutes. Render the fatback just until it melts and the solids float to the bottom, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, and take it out of the oven.
Line a sieve or colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Ladle the rendered fat from the Dutch oven through the sieve and into the bowl.
Pour or ladle the lard into food-storage containers or 1-quart glass jars. You can freeze the fatback or store it at room temperature.
Wrap the fatback in plastic food wrap and place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Trim the fat layer from the fatback to about 1/3 inch thick after you take it out of the freezer. Reserve the trimmed fat for another use.
Position the fatback skin-side up horizontally on the cutting board and score it crosswise with 1/4-inch-deep slices spaced 1/3 inch apart. Pat the skin dry with paper towels and season it with kosher salt.
Rub the kosher salt into the skin and cover the fatback loosely with food wrap. Let the fatback sit at room temperature for about one hour.
Set the oven rack to the lowest position and set the temperature to 450 F while the fatback warms to room temperature.
Pat the fatback skin dry with paper towels after it sits at room temperature for one hour and slice it into 1/3-inch-wide pieces. Use the 1/3-inch-spaced slices you made through the skin earlier as a guide when slicing.
Position the sliced fatback 1 inch apart on a rimmed baking sheet and pour 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water into the pan. Place the pan in the oven.
Stir the fatback slices in the pan every 10 minutes and bake them until crisp and golden, about 35 minutes. Remove the cracklings from the pan using a slotted spoon and transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Wrap the fatback in food film and place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes to firm it up. Slice the skin off the fatback and reserve for another use.
Slice the fatback into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-wide strips. The strips may be long, as in 8 to 12 inches, or short, as in 3 to 4 inches, depending on the size of the slabs of fatback you have.
Cut kitchen twine into pieces long enough for you to wrap around the meat you're barding and tie. A 1.5- to 2-foot-long piece of twine is of adequate size to wrap around a medium to large roast or whole chicken, whereas a whole turkey might need a 4-foot long piece.
Lay the pieces of twine on the work surface and space them about 1/2 inch apart.
Pat the uncooked roast, piece of meat or whole poultry dry with paper towels and place it on the pieces of twine. Place the sliced pieces of fatback side-by-side all over the surface of the meat, roast or poultry, without overlapping them.
Wrap each piece of twine one at a time around the meat tightly to hold the sliced fatback in place and tie it in a knot on top of the meat, poultry or roast. Repeat with the other pieces of twine.
Place the roast, meat or poultry in a roasting pan and bake it in the oven. Cooking times vary with the type of meat you're roasting, but the addition of fatback doesn't alter cooking times.
Your best bet for getting high-quality, hormone-free fatback is going directly to a small farmer and asking for it.
You can pulse the fatback into small pieces using a powerful food-processor instead of slicing it by hand when making lard.
Add 1/4-inch-wide strips of fatback to vegetables before roasting them to use as an oil or bacon-fat replacement.