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Monday, June 29, 2015

Glorious Fatback



It seems that many folks I meet these days, under a certain age, say that they do not like vegetables.  This is incredible to me, because I'm some what of a vegetable fanatic.  Growing up on the farm and in rural communities, huge varieties of fresh vegetables are a part of life.  It has often been joked that mid-summer in the south requires constant vigilance because, the moment you turn your  back, someone leaves a sack of squash on your doorstep or slips it through an open car window.  When vegetables come into season int he south, they come in! Everyone with a garden and even a slightly green thumb is overwhelmed with produce.  Truly, our calendars would be more appropriately marked by frost dates, the peak times for vegetables and hunting seasons than by months.

Life in the south revolves around food.  So, when someone tells me they don't like vegetables, I have to enquire as to the root cause.  Invariably, it is because they have been raised on unseasoned vegetables.  Their parents fell for the anti-fat and anti-salt fads of the 1970s- early 2000s, which are now being proven very misguided.  Fed a diet of bland, low salt vegetables, seasoned with no animal fats... who could help but loose their zest for nature's bounty?

Although vegetables can be seasoned with anything from olive oil to butter, so long as salt is included,  they is no better seasoning than that traditional southern staple, FATBACK!  Fatback is merely a slice of salt cured fat from the back of a hog.  However, the flavors it imparts to cooked - and I mean old style, cooked until its really done (as opposed to blanched, steamed, sautéed, etc... al dente... more trendy or fancy cooking styles) vegetables, is unparalleled.  Butter beans are not beans without fatback..... collard greens are not collard greens without fatback..... stewed squash is not stewed squash without fatback.... few vegetables can reach their apex of flavor without the clear, unctuous, rendered, salty fat of the hog.  Fatback brings out the depth, the savoriness and the sweetness of vegetables.  Fatback makes vegetables a meal!



You can buy fat back either sliced or in larger pieces that you can cut.  It should be mostly white in color and, if you can give it a sniff, smell fresh.  Old fatback can "rust", or oxidize, and this will be apparent by darkening or a stale odor.



To use fatback, start with an empty pot or pan.  Put in your fatback and turn the heat up to about  medium - depending on your stove, a bit lower may work better.  As the fatback cooks, oil will render out of it.  Do not let it smoke.  The fatback is done once it becomes opaque/clear.  Take out the fatback and reserve to a plate at this point.  Then, toss in your chopped vegetables and cook them until done, salting and peppering to taste.  I can't think of a single southern vegetable that isn't excellent cooked this way.


The fun isn't over though..... now, you have the ultimate southern snack, FRIED FATBACK!  Fried fatback puts the potato chip to shame.  It is crispy, salty, crunchy, rich and light all at the same time.  Once your fatback has cooled, give a piece a bite and see if it is crisp.  If not, put them on a pie pan or sheet pan, etc and bake them at 200 - 250 degrees to finish the cooking.  You'll know they are done when they appear dry, light brown and have drawn up a bit.



All that is left is to slap your cardiologist with all the recent studies proving that low fat and low salt diets are not only unhealthy, but worse for you than high salt, high fat diets.  ENJOY!


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