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What Dishes Are Prepared Using Fatback?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many dishes are prepared using fatback as a flavor additive. Common in American southern and soul food, fatback is used to flavor greens, beans and other typically bland vegetables. Occasionally, fatback is served fried as a sandwich filler or as a type of finger food. These slices of the fatty treat can also be fried until crisp and served as a type of crackling. Black-eyed peas and rice are also treated to the fatty flesh in order to create a more flavorful and traditional soul food treat.

Carved from the clear fat of the hog's loin, fatback is exactly what the name implies: it is fat from the back of a hog. Unlike salt pork that is a cured piece of fat commonly containing small strips of meat, fatback is not cured and contains no meat. Used almost exclusively as a flavor additive, fatback can be used in place of nearly any dish that calls for pork hocks or ham to be used as a flavor additive. Typically, the fat is added to the dish as it cooks, and then any large piece left unrendered is strained out as the dish is served. In some areas, the un-melted remains of a piece of fat are considered a treat and are commonly fought over by children.

Greens and carrots are often flavored with the fat as the dish cooks, and bean soup is also a likely candidate for the pork fat. In some countries, such as Hungary, the fat is commonly fried and eaten with eggs for breakfast or dinner. The fat is also eaten as a treat by slicing it thinly into strips and frying the fat until it is crisp and golden brown. Similar to cracklings in southern American cuisine, this is often considered a treat and is reserved for holidays and special occasions.

Noodles, potatoes and yams are also commonly cooked using fatback as an ingredient. In some recipes, even the noodles for a macaroni and cheese dish are cooked with a piece of the fat to add flavor to the finished dish. Many cooks render the fat to create a cooking oil or to add a slight hint of bacon flavor to biscuits. From grits and gumbo to fried green tomatoes, cooks have been relying on fatback to add flavor to recipes all around the world. Soups, stews and casseroles are all made to taste slightly more like soul food by adding a small piece of pork fat right from the hog's back.

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