Somewhere between bacon and lard, you’ll find Streak o’ Lean. It has a long and varied history in traditional southern foodways having been used for everything from seasoning to rendering for fat. This recipe showcases it on its own, dredged in flour and fried. One of the tastiest recipes from my childhood!
I debated with myself for a long time about whether to post this recipe. A really long time. Not just because almost no one will know what it is. Those folks are going to be few and far between.
But mostly because old-time southern food has such a bad reputation. It doesn’t need me adding fuel to the fire with old recipes that just reinforce that stereotype. Yet, despite all those reasons nagging me, I still wanted to do it. So, here it is. Streak o’ Lean.
Who’s ever heard of Streak o’ Lean? Speak up. (testing, testing, is this thing on?)
What the Heck is Streak o’ Lean?
To start with, you’ll hear it called various things depending on what part of the south you’re from. In my area, it’s mostly streak-o-lean (Streak of Lean). Some folks run that all together it comes out sounding like “stricklin.” It’s also called fatback, side meat, white meat, and just plain salt pork.
You can think of Streak o’ Lean as kind of the opposite of bacon. Where bacon is smoked and has a streak of fat among the lean meat, streak o’ lean is salt cured and has a lean streak among the fat. It’s salt pork that has been elevated by coating it in flour and pan frying.
Now before you send the food police around to my house and start proceedings to revoke my official food bloggers license, just wait a minute. As crazy as the food world is today about bacon if I had said I was deep frying bacon some of y’all would be in a swoon right now. You know you would.
And besides, this is not something to be eaten every day of the week. As a matter of fact, the best I can remember it has been at least 10 years since I last cooked Streak o’ Lean.
Although it can still be found on restaurant buffet lines in rural areas of the South, it’s really one of those once or twice a year (maybe decade) kinds of recipes. But be warned, once you’ve had it, you’ll never forget it. You’ll crave it. You will look for it at every buffet, and you’ll make an excuse to “just have a little bite.”
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Part of our southern food traditions.
- Budget friendly (okay, it’s just flat out cheap).
- It’s just plain delicious!
- Salt Pork (Salt pork is very easy to find anywhere throughout the south. It should be available in most other areas because of its association with baked beans.)
- Peanut Oil (I use peanut oil for any frying because it has a high smoking point. Canola or vegetable oil can be used as well.)
- Black Pepper (No salt is needed because… *salt* pork.)
- All-Purpose Flour (Makes a lovely crispy fried coating.)
- Buttermilk or Regular Milk (You’ll soak the salt pork to draw out some of the salt before cooking.)
Note that the amounts given in the recipe are merely estimates. It’s very hard to give exact measurements because it’s one of those old recipes where you use what you need at the moment.
You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.
How to Cook Streak o’ Lean
So how do you cook Streak o’ Lean? Well, you start with some salt pork. It’s the same thing that you use to season a pot of greens or a pot of baked beans.
TIP: Salt pork is available in one whole piece or in slices. You can slice it yourself with a very sharp knife or purchase the pre-sliced to make preparation very simple.
- The first step is to soak the salt pork. This step draws out a lot of the salt and, believe me, you don’t want to skip this. I know some restaurants that don’t soak it at all, just fry it up, but I prefer to draw out some of the salt first. Remove the salt pork from the milk letting most of it drain away. Discard the milk.
- Place the salt pork on a board or pan and sprinkle it liberally with ground pepper.
TIP: Any kind of milk or cream works fine for drawing out the salt. Some people, instead of soaking, will boil the salt pork for about ten minutes, drain it and then proceed with the recipe. If you’re short on time, that works as well.
- Then flour it well on both sides.
- Heat about a ¼ inch of peanut oil in a heavy skillet. When the oil is hot, carefully lower the prepared pieces of salt pork into the pan. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned, crispy, and cooked through – about 3 minutes on each side.
- Put the finished slices on a paper towel lined plate to remove excess oil.
Streak o’ lean and pork belly are similar, but they come from different areas of the pig. Pork belly comes from, well the belly, and streak o’ lean comes from the side (why it’s also called “side meat”) and is fattier. It’s also not bacon. Bacon is cured pork belly.
Streak o’ Lean
- 12 ounces salt pork sliced
- 1 ½ cups milk or buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- peanut oil for frying (1/4-inch deep)
- Place the sliced salt pork in a container and cover with milk or buttermilk. Let sit for several hours to draw out some of the salt. Remove the salt pork from the milk. Discard the milk.
- Pepper each slice of salt pork and then dredge lightly in flour.
- Add peanut oil to a depth of a ¼ inch to a heavy skillet. Heat the oil over medium high heat. Carefully add the prepared salt pork slices to the hot oil. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned and cooked through (about 7-8 minutes).
- Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.
- Salt pork is very easy to find throughout the south. It should be available in most other areas because of its association with baked beans.
- I use peanut oil for any frying because it has a high smoking point. Canola or vegetable oil can be used as well.
Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.
— This post was originally published on November 30, 2012. It has been updated with new photos and additional information.