Polish smalec (SMAH-lets) is a salty spread made from rendered white pork fat flavored with onion, garlic, spices and sometimes chopped apple that varies from region to region. Sometimes skwarki (pork cracklings) are added for extra crunch.
In the old days, peasants ate smalec as a kind of insulation against the cold weather. Today, it's often served with hearty bread as a complimentary starter even at the most elegant restaurants.
It is often served in a scooped-out bread bowl or bread loaf and, in the mountainous Zakopane region, it is often accompanied by moskole, a griddled potato pancake, which is very different from fried potato pancakes or placki ziemniaczane.
- 2 1/4 pounds white pork fat (or leaf lard, diced)
- 2 large onions (finely chopped)
- 4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 1/2 pound słonina (or fatty bacon, diced)
- 2 large tart apples (peeled, cored and diced small)
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper or (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- Optional: 1 teaspoon marjoram
- Grind the diced white pork fat and place it in a large skillet. Fry until fat is transparent, stirring occasionally.
- Add the onion, garlic, and bacon, and sauté until bacon is golden brown and the fat has rendered out.
- Add the apples and season to taste with optional marjoram, and pepper and salt to taste. Be careful with the salt because the bacon can be salty. But you must add enough for the smalec to have good flavor.
- Transfer to a stoneware crock or heatproof jar. Leave at room temperature until fat has solidified. Then store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
- Serve this spread on rye bread with sliced onion on top and pickles on the side, if desired, and a steaming hot mug of sweet or spiked tea. Do like the Poles do and enjoy this after a cold-weather activity like skiing, sledding or sleigh rides (kulig).
Lard Is Better for You Than You Think
Lest you think lard is more unhealthy than butter, un-hydrogenated lard has less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, and less cholesterol than butter and none of the trans fat found in shortening and margarine.
Rendered Pork Fat Popular Among Most Slavs
Smalec isn't unique to Polish cuisine, in Hungarian, it's known as disznózsír while Lithuanians say taukai. Croatians, Serbians, and Slovenians say mast, Czechs and Slovaks say sádlo. Bulgarians say svinska mas, and Romanians say untură. In Russia and Ukraine, slices of pork fat known as salo are eaten without being rendered. And, of course, rendered chicken fat is known as schmaltz in the Jewish culture.
Most people render pork fat to make smalec which is spread on rye bread and sprinkled liberally with salt. But in some families, the onion-flavored congealed drippings that are a byproduct of a pork roast dinner are used as a make-do substitute. The flavor is delicious.