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Salo is a traditional Eastern European food consisting of cured slabs of fatback (rarely pork belly), with or without skin. The word salo is used in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, but the food is commonly eaten and known under different names in other countries across the region. It is usually salted or brine fermented, hence the names slonina/slana/szalonna (solonýna in Ukrainian means any kind of salt-cured meat, such as corned beef). The Eastern European one is sometimes treated with paprika or other condiments, while the Southeast European one is often smoked.
The Slavic word "salo" as applied to this type of food (it has other meanings as well) is often translated to English as "bacon" or "lard". Unlike lard, salo is not rendered. Unlike bacon, salo is not necessarily bacon-cured. Salo has little or no meat (skeletal muscle), and low-meat high-fat bacon commonly is referred to as salo. It is also identical to Italian lardo, the main possible differences being the thickness of the cut (lardo is often sliced very thinly) and seasoning: Russian/Ukrainian salo uses salt, garlic, black pepper and, possibly, a bit of coriander in curing process, while lardo is generally seasoned with rosemary and other herbs.
For preservation, salo is salted, sometimes also smoked and aged in a dark and cold place, where it will last for a year or more. For flavouring and better preservation salo may be cured, or covered with a thick layer of paprika (usually in the more Western lands, in Russian salo with paprika is called "Hungarian"), minced garlic, or sometimes black pepper. The slabs of fat are cut into manageable pieces, typically 15×20 cm, and smeared with salt. The slabs are placed skin-down into a wooden box or barrel, alternating with one-centimetre layers of salt.
When salo has been aged too long, or exposed to light, the fat may become oxidized on the surface and become yellowed and bitter-tasting. Then it can be used as a water-repellent treatment for leather boots or as a bait for mouse traps or simply turned into homemade soap.
Salo may be consumed raw, but can also be cooked or fried or finely chopped with garlic as a condiment for borscht (beet soup). Small pieces of salo are added to some types of sausage. Thinly-sliced salo on rye bread rubbed with garlic is a traditional snack to accompany vodka in Russia, or, and particularly, horilka in Ukraine.
Salo is often chopped into small pieces and fried to render the fat for cooking, while the remaining cracklings (shkvarky in Ukrainian, spirgai in Lithuanian, skwarki in Polish, jumări in Romanian) are used as condiments for fried potatoes or varenyky, even spread on bread as a snak.
The thick pork skin that remains after using the salo's fat can also contribute to the stock for soup or borscht. After boiling it is discarded.
Salo in popular culture
In Eastern-European humour, salo is a stereotypical attribute of Ukrainian cuisine, analogous to vodka for Russians, beer and wurst for German, tea and crumpets for English, Coca-cola and cheeseburgers for the American culture, and wine and spaghetti for Italian.
Salo in chocolate
The expression "chocolate-coated salo" (salo v shokoladi), originating in an ethnic joke about Ukrainians, has become cliché among Eastern Slavs, referring to an eclectic mix of tastes or desires, such as bacon ice cream.
In the 2000s, Odessa Confectionery Factory started production of candies Salo v Shokoladi. The chocolate candies were invented as an April Fool's Day joke. They are not actually salo; they contain a regular caramel filling with a small amount of rendered fat added as a salty flavouring.
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