猪油 mandarin: jew-yo; Cantonese: jyew-yao

This in my kitchen means the pure white, firm, unseasoned, and odorless fresh fat from the back of the pig. In butcher shops you should ask for fat back or fresh pork fat, which the butcher will often sell you gratis. If you have difficulty locating a source, ask a friend or call a specialty shop that makes pâté, for lard is a staple in any kitchen where it is made. For smaller amounts, trim the pure white fat from a pork chop. Do not use salt back or salt pork, which are seasoned.

Lard was the traditional cooking fat of China and was used for both deep-frying and stir-frying. It is the reason why you find, in many of the old Chinese cookbooks, the stem admonishment to eat a dish up because it will not be good cold. One of lard’s disadvantages (to counter the wonderful crispness and flavor it imparts) is that unlike vegetable oils, it congeals and is unappetizing when cold.

Lard’s job, ironic as it seems given our Western associations with this product, is to make things light and/or crisp. It is a standard ingredient in Chinese shrimp pastes and dim sum-type pastry doughs, and there is no substitute. For use in the shrimp mixtures or to add a bit of emollience to a steamed fish, you do not need to render the lard. For Chinese pastry doughs, you must first render it to a liquid, cutting the solid stuff into cubes and then either steaming it or heating it slowly over the stove. Then, let it solidify to a smooth, firm mass before using. Some cooks who work more extensively with lard prefer the fine leaf lard, often called caul fat or net fat, that wraps the kidneys of the pig and has a finer texture when rendered. Processed lard, to me, has an unappealing aftertaste, and I avoid using it.

Fresh lard may be kept indefinitely in the freezer, cut into small blocks and bagged for easy use, then taken directly from the freezer for mincing.