Which Came First, the Chicken or the Pig?


With this week's review of Barbuto in the New York Times, the hottest dish in Manhattan today is… roast chicken? It may seem like a simple dish, but when done right—as it is at Barbuto—it can also be just about perfect. But Frank Bruni, the reviewer, doesn't stop at lavishing praise on the bird at Barbuto; he follows up on his blog with this post, wondering if there is in fact great chicken out there in NYC that he hasn't eaten yet.

Yes, Frank, there is.

And that is the roast chicken that gets made, quite often this time of year, in my Brooklyn apartment. It is unequivocally the best in the city, if not the world. But it's not the best in the city because I have some secret chicken purveyor (unless the Garden of Eden on Montague Street counts as a secret), or that I have some awesome, custom-made oven like Barbuto's chef and owner Jonathan Waxman does (mine's a trusty ol' GE), or even that I lavish all sorts of care or attention on my bird (I just truss it, slap it down on a warm cast iron skillet, and throw it in a 450 degree oven).

No, mine is the best because I have a secret weapon in the fight against dried out, tough meat. A secret ingredient so simple, and so easily implemented, that once you try it, you'll never make a chicken without it again: lardo, otherwise known as cured pig fat.

Just cut thin slices of lardo and place them under the chicken's skin everywhere you can find room, then roast it as you would otherwise. How thin should the lardo slices be? The thinner, the better. A skilled hand and a filet knife will give you adequate results, but if you have access to a meat slicer, you'll get the so-thin-it's-almost-see-through effect that you're looking for; the idea here is really to blanket the meat in pig fat, so that the lardo will just melt into the flesh as it roasts.

Now, for as easy as the technique may be, it's the finding of lardo that's the tricky part. Of course, you can always cure your own, but your better bet is to snoop around at the best Italian butcher you can find. Otherwiseand this is what I dorecruit anyone you know who may be living in/taking a trip to Italy (And Frank, I know that your Rome connections will definitely come in handy, here) to bring back as much of the stuff as possible. Then freeze it (it freezes really well, and there's no more glorious sight in a freezer than pound upon pound of cured pig fat), and defrost as needed. Which, if you're anything like me, will be about 4 or 5 times a week.

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