It's not easy being a convert to the joys of lard. Indeed, such has been the demonisation of this lovely fat that one might find it easier these days to defend the reputation of Rebekah Brooks and suggest that she's newspapers' answer to Maria von Trapp.
While uses of Lardo di Colonnata might lend a certain sophistication to the issue, simply by virtue of its being Italian, the English stuff is a rather humbler affair.
But in the middle of a week of stormy weather and storms over Wapping, food still demanded some consideration.
Last weekend, I'd bought a couple of gammon steaks on the market: lovely looking things - none of those pristinely-trimmed half moons of pink, but very much as they came.
Now, what to do with these beauties? My original plan had involved grilling them – with special care taken to avoid a problem I seem to have of overcooking bacon. I don’t put the grill on high enough, thus cooking the rashers for too long in order to get the rind to crisp up, and ending up with rather dry meat.
Heat remains something that I can be tentative in using. I suspect I’m not alone, but the issue of a lack of basic cooking skills and knowledge in this country is not the subject of this post.
Alongside the meat, the meal was going to include the delights of simple boiled new potatoes and fresh peas. Good, simple, seasonal fodder.
But on Tuesday evening, as I was in the slow process of hauling my sorry arse out of a chair and into the kitchen, a chat with The Other Half saw alternative ideas forming – a very English idea of serving the gammon with fried eggs and chips.
A quick trip to the corner shop followed for a hulking main crop potato to chip. But while I was doing that, a thought struck: it's over six months since I've made chips – and the last time was before I had discovered lard.
It was time to combine the two.
That meant a diversion up to Broadway Market to raid Tony’s store, where I lifted all four remaining blocks of lard out of the chiller cabinet and into my basket.
Because I haven’t got a chip pan and have nowhere to store such lard after it’s been used, this ended up being the most expensive aspect of the entire meal.
Once back home, it was a question of peeling and cutting up the potato, then popping the pieces into a pan of cold water for half an hour.
At that point, drain fully and then dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.
The blocks of lard all went into a large pan and were slowly melted while the grill was heated.
In my excitement, I forgot to test the heat of the fat with a small piece of torn off bread, and simply dumped the chips in. A blinding panic was alleviated by whacking the heat on the hob right up. In the event, the fat bubbled quickly and no harm was done.
The steaks took around four minutes a side – and I kept checking to make sure they didn’t get over done and dry out.
The chips had around four to five minutes – and were then removed and drained. Once the fat was back to bubbling, they went back in for a further two minutes.
That was enough time to fry a couple of eggs (in vegetable oil, I’m afraid, having run out of lard ordinaire by this point) and open a tin of pineapple chunks – yes, it really was that retro a meal!
Gammon steaks are sometimes regarded as rather passé, but when they’re good, they’re very good. These were lightly smoked – and the pineapple is a cliché for a sound reason, because it makes a good combination. The eggs were fine.
But then we come to the chips. I seriously did not realise just what a difference frying them in lard would make – I tried it out, because I wanted to know – but I’d hadn’t been prepared for the outcome.
These were beautiful. The best chips by far that I’ve ever made. Thick cut (so reducing the fat to potato ratio, if you’re worried about that); fluffy in the middle and with a fabulous crispness on the outside.
It struck me straight away that the crispness was reminiscent of the fish and chips we had in Scarborough just after Easter. The fish, with it’s filigree crispness, was a joy. These chips had a similar texture.
Chips, done properly, are a real treat, but too often they’re turned simply into filling. And cooking chips in lard is now going to be my standard.