Praise The Lard!

Crispy Beef Taco, Guacamole, Salsa

In Texas, like everywhere else, there are four main food groups.  Ours are Mexican Food, Barbecued Brisket, Chicken Fried Steak, and Chili. Some would argue that Margaritas and Beer are their own distinct food groups, but they should be considered as seasonings.  You may add more or less of each, to any of the others, to suit your taste.

When we want the best brisket, we know where to go.  When we want the best chicken fried steak, we know who has it.  Figuring out where to go for the best Mexican Plate is ultimately more difficult.

Place “A” has the best flour tortillas, but their enchiladas are weak.  Place “B” has amazing refried beans, but their rice tastes like dirty socks.  Place “C” has salsa I would drink out of a mug, but their tacos appear to be made of canned dog food.  I’m not making that up.

I find myself dreaming up the end-all be-all Mexican Combination Plate.  The corn tortillas will be homemade, a little bit thick, and will have good corn flavor.  The picadillo will be made of actual beef, not canned processed corned beef, and it isn’t really necessary to provide an extra ladle-full of grease.  The taco shells will be fried on site, just before being filled and sent to the table. The salsa will be fresh and flavorful, with some heat to it, but it won’t melt my lips off of my face. The rice will be fragrant, devoid of peas and carrots, and not a sticky glob.  The flour tortillas will not be thin, flavorless discs from a plastic bag, but will be thick, soft, and chewy, and a little bit salty.  They will be made with lard.  So will the nicely browned refried beans, which should have a little bit of a crust on them.  From the lard.

I am not advocating eating lard on a regular basis.  In fact, due to the fact that it is a saturated animal fat, I advise against it.  There are some dishes though, that just aren’t as good made with anything else.  Pie crust and fried chicken.  And authentic Mexican food.    If you are going to eat Mexican food out on a regular basis, stick with healthier choices such as grilled meats and seafood, fresh corn tortillas, borracho beans and grilled vegetables.  Caldo and tortilla soups are good choices, as are grilled fish or shrimp tacos.

But every once in a while, such as the morning after a really good time that you can’t seem to remember, or on Sunday, nothing satisfies like a plate of bona fide, cheese-covered, made-with-lard Mexican food.

And by lard, I mean pure animal fat—Manteca–not vegetable shortening.  You just will not get the same flavor or mouthfeel from shortening that you will get from lard.  Yes, you can substitute shortening, butter, or even olive oil.  But– and here is the really important part–you will not get the same results.

Another thing you will notice about many Mexican recipes, is that they call for cooking in a cast iron skillet.  This is because traditionally, many of these foods are cooked in a large, cast iron vessel called a comal.  It resembles a giant, cast iron wok.  If you want the best approximation to that authentic flavor, then cast iron cookware is the only way to go.

Including a recipe for every Dream Mexican Plate favorite could easily fill a small book.  Since we are giving praise to the lard this week, I am including three classic Mexican offerings that rely on it to be the best version of themselves—flour tortillas, refried beans, and pan de polvo…plus a recipe for picadillo to round out a meal.

Beef Picadillo Tacos

Basic Picadillo

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 3 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon beef base

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil.  Add the ground meat, cooking until no longer pink.  Add the garlic, onion, peppers and jalapeno.  Cook for a few minutes more.  Stir in the salt, pepper, and cumin.  Add the water and the beef base, and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer slowly until most of the liquid has cooked out and the remaining juices are thick.  Serve in your choice of taco shells, nacho chips, chalupas, or whatever your favorite method of getting it into your mouth.

Texas-Style Flour Tortillas--Thick, Soft, And Chewy

Thick and Chewy Flour Tortillas

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  •  4 teaspoon salt
  • 6  tablespoons lard
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.  Add the lard, and using your fingers, cut in the lard until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir the water in with a fork until a sticky dough is formed.  Using your hands, knead the dough inside the bowl 10 or 12 times, until it forms a well incorporated ball.  Cover with a damp paper towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.  Divide the dough into balls. Use walnut sized for snack-sized 4″ tortillas, and use twice that to make 6″ tortillas for tacos.  Allow to sit another 15 minutes.

Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat.

To roll out your tortillas:  cut a gallon-size ziplock bag down the long sides, creating one long piece of plastic.  Place a ball of dough on one side, and fold the other side back down on top of it.  Using a rolling-pin, roll the dough one time in one direction, then turn the dough a quarter turn and roll again.  This will help ensure a uniform circle.  Roll each ball a few times until the dough is very thin–it should be a about 6″ in diameter if you used a walnut sized ball, and 9″ if you used a larger piece.  Peel one side of the plastic back, and then gently peel the tortilla off of it onto your hand before placing it into the hot skillet.  The first time or two that you make these, you may want to roll all of the dough out before heating your skillet, and keep the rounds between wax paper while you wait to cook them.

Cook until large bubbles start appearing, about 30 seconds, and flip it over to cook the other side.  Stack the tortillas on a plate while you finish the batch, but do not place them in an oven.

Refried Beans

You may use your favorite borracho bean recipe for these, but canned pinto beans will work just fine if you don’t have the time or inclination to cook up a batch.

  • 4 cups cooked pinto beans, including some juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt (if using canned beans or unseasoned beans)
  • 1/4 cup lard

Place beans, and salt if using, in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  Heat lard to medium high heat in a cast iron skillet.  Gently spoon the beans into the skillet.  Cook without disturbing for 5 minutes.  Stir just to turn the bottom up a little, and cook for 5 more minutes.  Continue turning and cooking in this manner, until the beans are bubbly and have a nice brownness to them.  Often served with a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese, and popular as a breakfast taco on flour tortillas.

Pan de Polvo--Mexican Wedding Cookies

Pan de Polvo

Mexican Wedding Cookies

  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 pieces of star anise
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 10 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 cups shortening
  • 2 cups lard
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch salt

For finishing:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Pour water over cinnamon and anise, and allow to steep for 30 minutes.

Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar, lard, and shortening until smooth. Add the tea to the creamed mixture, and blend until smooth.  Stir in the salt. Add the dry mixture, a little bit at a time, until a nice smooth, and not sticky dough is formed.  Roll out on a piece of waxed paper, to a thickness of between 1/3 and 1/2 of an inch.  Use any small, 1-2″ cookie cutter that you’d like.  Bake at 325 degrees for 8-10 minutes.   Mix together cinnamon and sugar and set aside.  When cookies are hot out of the oven, but cool enough to handle, gently toss them in the cinnamon sugar. 

And if you would like still a few more, you can see these recipes in earlier posts:


Favorite Guacamole

Carne Guisada


Categories: Food, Texas


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19 Comments on “Praise The Lard!”

  1. Aaron Pachlhofer
    2012/02/24 at 12:29 pm #

    Awesome post as always. But something I did not see, and maybe you have a link: what is your favorite pinto/borracho beans recipe?

    • 2012/02/24 at 12:44 pm #

      I haven’t posted that one yet,,,saving it for an upcoming brisket issue…

      But, mine is simple…

      one pound chopped bacon, browned until almost crisp (don’t drain). Add one large chopped onion, and 3 cloves minced garlic, one minced fresh jalapeno and cook in the bacon fat for 3 minutes. Add 2 pounds dry beans, cover with 3 quarts water. Cover and simmer for 3 hours. Add two cans diced ro-tel, 1 bunch chopped cilantro, and 24 oz beer. Cook uncovered for another hour. Salt as desired (but never before they are cooked).

  2. 2012/02/24 at 1:51 pm #

    If you can find unprocessed lard, it’s actually not that bad for you. I want you to know that, because of your post, we’re going to eat at a local Mexican joint tonight. I like it because everything is fried right there, and the enchiladas are cheesy gooey. Excellent post!

  3. 2012/02/24 at 1:56 pm #

    I so agree with you about lard (though that may also be why you’ll never see my blog on a top 50,000 list of healthy blogs). Some things are just better with it. It adds a flavor and flakiness you can’t get with the “better for you” stuff.

    Now I want some tortillas and beans……

  4. 2012/02/25 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for subscribing to my blog, I’ve done the same by hooking up to yours today. I like it. A lot. You’re a great writer and I love your food style:)

    • 2012/02/25 at 3:27 pm #

      Thanks alot! I look forward to sharing recipes and stories!

  5. 2012/02/27 at 1:15 pm #

    Once again you have thrown a craving at me! I could really go for some enchiladas right now, with some boracho beans and a margarita on the rocks.

    If you ever do find that perfect mexican food restaurant, please let us know where it is. I’ll keep searching as well.

  6. 2012/02/28 at 6:49 pm #

    You know I love your attitude and this recipe!

    • 2012/02/28 at 7:48 pm #

      Thanks…there are just those moments when only lard will do!

    • 2012/02/28 at 7:49 pm #

      Oh, and I am eating one of these tortillas as we speak…mmmn.

  7. 2012/03/01 at 4:49 pm #

    I want Mexican food and I want to make a pie. You planted those seeds very well my friend!

  8. 2012/03/05 at 12:11 am #

    Haha I love how you said it,
    Praise the Lard!!

  9. 2012/05/25 at 9:48 pm #

    Lard – nothing like it for great pie crust! And for cookies – well, you know what? It’s less saturated (way less saturated) than butter!

  10. 2012/05/26 at 6:04 am #

    Oh, yum! I want to plaster this onto my desktop and see it every time I log in

  11. 2012/05/26 at 11:11 am #

    Amazing! These recipes make me really, really hungry. I have no problems with lard. Bring it on!

  12. 2012/05/26 at 5:02 pm #

    Brilliant. I think the first paragraph says it all…

  13. 2012/05/26 at 5:12 pm #

    Oh yeah! Bring on the TexMex!

  14. KeKe
    2018/11/19 at 7:15 pm #

    Texan living in NC. Thanks for the recipes!!

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