If you’ve followed me here on Not Dabbling, you may recall my experience last winter with “harvesting” a pig (vivid butchering photos). Our intent was to get as much product out of the animal, but being our first adventure in such a large butchering job we lost a lot of said product. One of the things I was really looking forward to from our harvest was lard. Animal fats are becoming recognized more and more as a healthier fat than some vegetable, nut, or seed oils that quickly go rancid, oxidize, or contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately while we were busy butchering, the rendering lard got forgotten about and we lost the entire pot.
Since we moved, I’ve lost my local source for fresh rendered fat and have begun to make my own. It’s really a simple process and supports the nose-to-tail way of eating. Most butchers will carry pork fat for lard or beef suet for tallow, and generally it’s pretty inexpensive – especially compared to gourmet nut oils. You can also save fat from trimming meat and store it in your freezer for up to three months before rendering it. Rendered mutton and deer fat is also called tallow, and then there is duck and goose fat which comes from rendering the skin and underlying fat on a bird. We’ve recently had duck, and from just the trimmings I averaged about 3/4 cup of rendered fat from one bird. If I hadn’t seasoned the breasts and legs so heavily, I would have been able to save much more fat. Plus there’s the tasty chicharones or fried (traditionally pork) fat and skin that are the result of rendering.
Whether you’re making soap, salves, candles, schmaltz, confit, or using it in place of hydrogenated shortening, rendering fat is a pretty simple process.
- Cut the fat or bird skin into 1 inch cubes, removing as much meat as possible.
- Use a heavy bottom pan and add about 1 cup water. The fat doesn’t need to be covered with water as long as you stir it often. I like my dutch oven for this process, but if you have a small amount of fat an iron skillet or heavy pan works just as well.
- Start at medium high. This gets the water nice an hot which starts the rendering process. If you didn’t have the water at the beginning you’d likely begin frying the fat too soon, and the fond stuck to the pan would probably burn before you could extract all the lard. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the fat doesn’t brown prematurely.
- As soon as you see oil on the top of the water, turn the heat down to medium low. Continue to stir every ten minutes or so. You can use a lid at this point, especially if you have a lot of product. After about 30 minutes the water you added will have cooked off and the cubes will begin bubbling.
- The cubes should begin to brown within an hour or two depending on the amount of water inside the product. When they are completely browned and the bubbling slows down, you can remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on a plate to drain. I like to use a platter and fold a towel underneath so the plate rests at an angle. I give them a little squeeze with the back of my spoon to get as much extra oil out of them, then use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the precious oil into my pan.
- The lard or tallow gets strained through cheesecloth or a paper towel and poured into a glass jar. The cracklings or chicharones get returned to the warm pan and are allowed to get nice and crispy. You may want to use a splatter screen for this part since any skin left on the fat will “POP” right out of the pan! It’s finally time to let these drain on a cloth and sprinkle them with salt or crushed red pepper. The remaining fat in the pan will be more like bacon drippings and can be used to flavor foods like beans or greens or to be used like schmaltz.
- Store your lard in an airtight container and it should keep for a few months at room temperature without spoiling or oxidizing. You can also keep it in the refrigerator, which is what I like to do just for baking convenience.
- An optional method is to cover the cubes completely with water an allow all the fat to render out over medium to medium high. Remove the cracklings and brown in a separate pan if you like. You can then skim the fat off the top of the water, an easier process done once it’s cooled completely and solidified. The resulting product may have a higher smoke point and a slightly more neutral flavor.
A few little factoids about rendered fats:
McDonald’s previously to use 93% beef tallow to fry their french fries until they switched to 100% vegetable oil.
Tallow can be used to make candles.
Lard and suet have a higher smoking point than vegetable shortening (which you shouldn’t be eating anyway thanks to the hydrogenation process) and are better for frying. Lard begins smoking at approximately 190 °C (374 °F), suet/tallow at approximately 200°C (400°F), while hydrogenated vegetable shortening smokes at 165 °C (329 °F).
Coconut oil is a great substitute for animal fats in general cooking and baking, but high heats require a refined coconut oil which is no where near as healthy as the unrefined stuff. Unless it’s unrefined, you should probably skip it.
Using fat was one of the first ways to preserve food. It’s now a delicacy that we refer to as “Confit”, and it can be sealed and stored for months.
Most commercial lard is hydrogenated.
Lard gives pastries a better, flakier texture than butter.
Do you use rendered fat in any form as a regular part of your diet?
I can also be found at Unearthing this Life where I blarg about food, motherhood, and dream of one day returning to rural living. I’m also on Twitter, and Pinterest, and a smattering of other places on the interwebs.