Fatback is essentially a cut of pork. It is generally taken off the pig's back and the main characteristic of this cut is that it is all fat and can be used almost like bacon. Unlike bacon, however, the cut contains very little meat, or sometimes no meat at all. When uncooked fatbacks look like all-white strips of bacon.
In essence, fatback cuts are all 'hard fat' and very different from the visceral fat that is present in the abdominal cavity, also known as soft fat or leaf lard. The cut has been used in American cooking, and other world cuisines, for many decades. Detailed descriptions on how the meat can be used in innovative ways can be found in various cookbooks from the Middle Ages. As Americans became more industrialized, some specific choice of cuts became more popular and fatbacks got pushed to the Southern States. Southern American cuisine of the modern times, therefore, calls for the use of the cut extensively.
Culinary Uses of Fatbacks
Fatback has always been an important ingredient in traditional American and European cuisines. In various European cultures, it is used in the making of specialty bacon. As the cut has skeletal muscle, this particular type of bacon is considered a delicacy. Fatbacks were, at one point of time, the basic cooking fat used in Italian cooking. The use has now spread to other cuisines as well, particularly American and Continental. The cut is used to add a rich and classic flavor to many traditional dishes like sautéed vegetables, stews, thick soups, casseroles, etc.
In French cuisine, fatback cuts are sliced very thinly and used to basically line a mold when making a traditional terrine or pate (cooking technique known as barding). Also, these slices are inserted under the skin of lean gamebirds before these are roasted (cooking technique known as larding). The cut is also used in the preparation of salt pork, lard and lardons.
The cut is a traditional part of Southern US cooking as well as Soul Food (African-American cooking). The cut is used to make cracklings or fried pork rinds. It also adds taste to stewed vegetables like black-eyed peas and other greens. A popular delicacy of the region is strips of very heavily salted and fried fatbacks. Being an inexpensive cut of meat, fatback is very popular. In Southwestern US, the cut is known as chicharron, the Spanish name for fried fatbacks.
Popular Fatback Recipes
Fatback is used in the preparation of many traditional dishes from various world cuisines. These include:
Túrós Csusza - Túrós csusza is essentially a thick and creamy preparation from Hungary. It is made with cottage cheese and noodles or savory curd cheese and noodles. The pasta or noodles are generally homemade and the dish is cooked with chopped fatback pieces. Túrós csusza is an important part of the Hungarian culinary tradition.
Hoppin' John - Hoppin' John is basically a Southern American version of the traditional West African Rice and beans. Fatbacks or ham hock are an important ingredient and add thickness and flavor to the dish.
Tourtière - Tourtière is a meat pie from Quebec. It is usually made with minced pork and/or beef or veal. Fatback is an important ingredient and adds flavor to the traditional Christmas dish. The cut also makes it rich and creamy.
An average 2 1/4x1 3/4x 1/4-inch slice of Fatback contains about 210 calories, 22.9 grams of fat, 12 milligrams of cholesterol and 0.95 grams of protein. The carbohydrates content is generally 0.
Fatback is often erroneously confused with salt pork. While fatbacks have almost no meat, salt pork still has some meat. Also, the latter is cured and can come from other parts of the pig while the former is uncured and raw and always comes from the back of the pig.