Friday, January 29, 2010
Chewing the Fat
Ah, salo, glorious salo! It is the adored raw pork fat enjoyed on its own and in many of timeless Ukrainian dishes. A classic preserved product, salo (са́ло) is typically fatback that is cut, salted, rolled or tied with twine and hung in cool, dark cellars or cupboards to dry and age.
Salo does vary widely in taste, reflecting diverse curing techniques, flavor additions such as herbs, preservation length, and the animal’s feed. Creamy and white, in my opinion, the best salo is smooth and just a bit salty. Thinly sliced, it is a tasty atop sliced black bread, accompanied by cloves of raw garlic and shots of vodka or horilka. Finely chopped, it provides an ideal medium for sautéing perfectly crispy potato slivers or golden onions to complement varenyky.
This week, a festival was held in the frigid streets of Poltava to celebrate the wonders of salo. Apparently, the Poltava region has a long standing connection to pork production. According to the book Culinaria, edited by Marion Trutter, the city of Myrhorod in Poltava Oblast, was a center for livestock trading in its central market, since the 17th century. Indeed, the Myrhorod pig is a signature breed for salo in Ukraine prized for a high fat to lean meat ratio.
Salo is also a cultural icon and source of pride for many Ukrainians, who jealously guard recipes or the names of butchers from whom they source their choicest slabs. Joke and anecdotes about the relative importance of salo in one’s life abound. (As in: “Toward what does a drowning man swim? His wife or his salo?”) While visitors famously cast aspersions on this national love of lard, the trend is catching on as cracklings and cuffia are hot topics of foodies around the globe ($7 bacon chocolate bar, anyone?). And, why not? Truly, what is not to love about pork fat?