Smalec is something that Americans eye warily at first. Polish friends and my husband said “it’s pork fat; you spread it on bread like butter.” I didn’t find them very convincing!
Of course, I eventually came around. The theme for my time in Poland was to try everything, experience new things, especially when it came to food.
It is a common thing in Polish restaurants to be served a basket of bread with a bowl of smalec for the table as soon as you sit down, much like chips and salsa in a Mexican restaurant.
It doesn’t take long to discover that some smalec is better than others. Some of it just seems like lard, with very little of the flavorings. Some smalec is a chunky spread, full of crispy brown bits, chock full of delicious things that were until recently a mystery to me. This recipe is the latter!
There was a little pub in Poznań that sold 100+ different beers, mainly Polish, I think. It was always packed with a very young crowd. Their limited food menu included smalec and bread, the perfect nibble to accompany 100+ kinds of beer. We started making a point of going there with our friends Angelika and Keith because we wanted to have the smalec.
I firmly believe that our food preferences are tied to the memories associated with the foods. For me, smalec is a rustic dish, shared in intimate settings with people you love.
Here are somethings I learned in making smalec that I’ll share with you. It can be difficult to buy a kilo of pork fat in the United States. I called several places and found two options for me in Tucson.
One of the local supermarkets was willing to save pork fat for me as the trimmed their cuts of meat. It took several days for them to have enough. But they did eventually call and had a package of pork fat waiting for me at $1.57 a pound.
I called two speciality butcher stores, and one of them had 3 pound packaged blocks of frozen pork fat. They were willing to cut it to size.
Now that we’ve secured the main ingredient, the surprising thing for me was that almost all smalec recipes include tart, green apples. I had no idea!
I’ve also read (with the aid of google translate) that some recipes includes diced dried fruit. My guess would be diced prunes; they’re very popular in Polish cooking. I went the classic route with just apples.
This recipes makes a lot. I filled 7 cute little Polish pottery ramekins. It keeps in the fridge for two weeks, so obviously I need people with whom to share. I’ve put one ramekin in the freezer as a test, and I’m happy to report that defrosted smalec is every bit as good as freshly made.
I love that I can pull a ramekin out of the freezer when I know someone is coming over. This is a dish meant for sharing.
I’d love to hear what you think of smalec!
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 1 hour 20 mins
- Yield: 6 cups 1x
- Cuisine: Polish
A rich, rustic spread for bread, aka the poor man’s butter
- 2 1/2 pounds pork fat, coarsely ground or finely diced
- 1/2 pounds bacon, coarsely ground or finely diced
- 3 medium onions (about 3 1/2 cups), finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cores, and grated or finely diced
- In a large frying pan, cook the ground pork fat for 10 minutes over medium heat, it will begin to render fat
- Add the ground bacon, onions, garlic, salt and pepper
- Stir, scrapping the bottom frequently
- Reduce heat to low if necessary
- I kept cooking and stirring for another 50 minutes, until the rendered fat level began to be high tee than the chopped bits in the pan
- Add the marjoram and grated apple
- Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally for a uniform consistency
- Store in the fridge
- Serve with a dark bread and small dill pickles
Best consumed with beer or vodka!
An accountant by trade and a food blogger since 2009, Lois Britton fell in love with Polish cuisine during the years she lived in Poznań, Poland. As the creator of PolishHousewife.com, she loves connecting readers with traditional Polish recipes. Lois has a graduate certificate in Food Writing and Photography from the University of South Florida. She is the author of The Polish Housewife Cookbook, available on Amazon and on her website.
Honestly, I was hooked at “pork fat!” Where did you get yours, Lois. Dickman’s? What kind of bacon. Pancetta? Oh you know I will be making this – just without the garlic!
Ha! Yes, Dickman’s has the blocks of pork fat. There a little meat attached, so I just ground everything. As for the bacon, I just bought the cheapest package I could find. It should be a fatty bacon.
I have a lot. Would you like to try some?
You are so sweet, Lois. Unfortunately, with my garlic allergy, I don’t think I can except your kind offer! But it is good to know that Dickman’s has the block of pork fat! I think we will try this and give it to people for Christmas gifts… Maybe not the ones with coronary issues, though. 🙂
Good point! 😉
If I purchased fat back or salt pork could I use that to melt down for the pork fat? This sounds so good! Loving all your recipes. We’re addicted to your pickle soup.
I think fatback would work, Rosemary. I am a big fan of salt pork, but I’m afraid in this case it would overpower all of the other flavors. All you would taste is the (wonderful) saltiness. The marjoram, onion, and apple are key to this recipe, and I think they would be lost.
Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoy the soup. It’s so much better than I expected for a pickle soup! LOL
Lois, we’ve had the German version of this. I think it is smaltz. It is a favorite of our German son-in-law. They are in Cincinnati now and I don’t think he can get it there. I will send him the link to your recipe.
The pronunciation would be very similar because the c sounds like ts. I’m always happy to connect someone with a comfort food; I appreciate you sharing the recipe!
we had Kobassa and shredded cabbage tonight for supper, and that will be for tomorrow too, as she made a big batch…The only thing I add is lots of pepper….and Im not Ukrainian…Im English…but still love the food.
I understand, Evelyn. I’m not Polish but still love the food.
Excellent recipe! Thank you for sharing it.
My pleasure, Bernadette; enjoy!
This is greet looking for winter camping ideas
A different version of pemmican
I had to look up pemmican; that was a new one for me!
My grandfather would tell us they ate pork fat instead of butter on bread during the Great depression. This sounds a lot nicer. I save rendered pork fat from roasts for making lard pastry (which is lovely and flakey) but I will have to try this out.
My grandmother used lard for pastry too. I have to try it!
My Greatgrandfather every morning had smalec for breakfast. He would smear thick globs on his morning rye bread. I watched him fascinated. I adored him.
I had forgotten about this food till you posted the story and recipe. Thanks.
I love to connect readers with treasured memories. Thanks for taking time to let me know, Ann.
I kept cooking and stirring for another 50 minutes, until the rendered fat level began to be high tee than the chopped bits in the pan.
high tee than ?
Thank you for the recipe, i now make this for my polish neighbour and he loves it……. I now leave out the apple because he prefers it without
I wish I had asked questions when I had the chance. Did my Polish grandparents spread this on their dark bread? Did they eat golompki with or without tomato juice over it? How did they pronounce the Polish word for soup? It always sounded like “Bouja” to me, How old were they when they moved to Chicago, then Waite Park, Minnesota (small Polish community)? I know Grandpa sent love letters to his bride … my sis has them in Polish, have no one here to translate for us.
It makes me sad that I was so busy being a kid, then teen, that I didn’t take the time to learn … how special that would have made them feel. Thanks for letting me reminisce a bit. I’m going to see if I can find the pork fat to try smalec.