By Kellene Bishop
Some of you are no doubt throwing away a very valuable asset when you trim the fat from your meat. Before being subjected to the misleading marketing ploys of the USDA and their subsidized parties, lard was considered good for you. The fact of the matter is, it STILL is good for you—better in fact than canola oil and even butter. (See "Why Do We Get Fat" by Gary Taubes or "Ignore the Awkward" by Uffe Ravnskov) When I’m cooking a pork that has excess fat I trim some of the fat and set it aside and then preserve it later. I also do the same for beef fat (tallow), chicken and I also save the leftover bacon grease so long as I haven’t burned it.
While I understand that much of what I’m saying here goes against everything you’ve heard growing up, you’re just going to have to get over it. They were wrong. Lard it good for you and that lard that you can create and preserve for yourself is MUCH better than the commercial lard that you can buy at the stores which contain canola oil—the very oil which is really, really bad for you. It’s also near impossible to get commercial lard without the addition of other hydrogenated oils (which CAUSE heart disease). So I’m all for making and preserving my own. Unlike margarine and vegetable oils, your homemade lard contains no trans fat which is part of the culprit for heart disease. Lard actually contains less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, and less cholesterol than butter by weight. For decades it was preserved, sometimes seasoned with onion and garlic, and used as a spread on bread along with tomatoes or cucumbers. (And yes, butter is better for you than canola oil as well.) Up until the end of the 19th century, the fat on the pig was considered just as valuable as the meat.
In terms of using lard, you’ll find that it adds a taste and texture to your baked goods* so beautifully that you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. I use it for popping popcorn, or to spread on the outside part of a grilled cheese sandwich. I love using lard in my pie crusts, flaky biscuits and even sautéed vegetables. The crusts are so flaky because or the large fat crystals that are found in lard unlike any other fat. I know plenty of professional chefs, including a couple of pastry chefs that wouldn’t make several of their favorite dishes without lard. I love rendering my own lard because I can use instead of butter for many dishes and thus preserve my butter specifically for those occasions when I just have to have a creamy butter taste. Lard has a fairly high smoke point and is edible even after it’s reached that smoke point and produces very little smoke and a distinguished taste. I like to use the lard when making various soups, also as a binder for meatballs and meatloaf. I also use the crispy little bits (known as cracklings) that develop in the lard that’s rendered fresh from the pork in my sausages, meatballs, and hearty gravies. There’s a distinctive flavor there that you just can’t get anywhere else. Lard is used so widely outside of the U.S. that there was even a “Lard Shortage” in 2006 in the UK as a result of the demand in Poland and Hungary for it. Who knew, eh?! Here’s you’re throwing it away and yet there’s a bunch of Brits willing to pay top dollar for it. *grin*
Be sure to read all of the directions for rendering and preserving your own lard as there are a few different steps you need to take in order for it to be successful.
To make your own lard—known as rendering lard—you’ll start off by retrieving it from your cuts of pork. Remove all of the skin and meat that you’re able to. The smallest bit of burnt muscle or skin will ruin the flavor of your lard. I like to partially freeze mine as they are easier to cut then. My chef friends actually put it through a meat grinder. When I purchase it from the butcher, he’s actually kind enough to take the pork scraps and put it through his meat grinder. (Since I don’t have a meat grinder yet, I’m happy to let him!) If you’re cutting it yourself though, cut the partially frozen pork into small 1/2 inch cube sizes.
Next, you’ll need a heavy, large, shallow pan. I suggest using a large a cast iron skillet that’s nicely seasoned. Also, just in case I keep a large pan lid by the stove “just in case” there’s a grease fire that I need to tend to. I cover the pan with a handy dandy spatter guard to help prevent me from getting popped in the face. It’s got fine holes in it so that it doesn’t create condensation. I have a friend who I taught how to do this and she went out and bought herself a large electric skillet that had nice, deep sides so that she can do bigger batches in there and better control the heat. Yeah, she’s a show off like that. Great idea, right? I’ll have to keep my eye out at the garage sales for something like that.
You’ll want keep the pan you use at a steady, medium low temperature. Start off by warming the pan on medium low heat and then add ¼ cup of water. Then toss in your fat pieces. Remember, you do not want to fill the pan to full because you don’t want to risk it boiling over and having a grease fire on your hands. Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda as you begin. This will make your lard whiter when it’s finished. You’ll want to stir the lard very frequently WITH A WOODEN or METAL utensil to prevent any meat bits (cracklings) from burning and anything sticking to the pan. Do not use ANY other type of utensil as it will melt. Your goal is to slowly melt the fat until it’s nice and clear. It will get a bubbly foam on the top of it, and then the bubbling with subside and what you’ll see are the cracklings that float to the top. As I see the cracklings develop, I spoon them out of the pan because I don’t want them to burn and put an unpleasant flavor in my lard. Once the bubbling had completely stopped, I turn off my oven heat.
The water helps the fat to not stick to the bottom of the pan and it boils off as the lard melts. USUALLY when the water has boiled off your lard is ready, but that’s not always the case. In fact, you may end up adding more water as time goes. Just watch for whether or not the fat seems to be sticking; if it is, then carefully add a little bit more water a ¼ cup at a time. You’ve got to be patient with this process as you don’t want to burn or scorch the pork fat. I do this process in batches, never putting in more pork fat than what can be spread out in the pan and not be any deeper than ¾ to 1 inch thick. Again, never add new fat pieces to a batch that’s already underway. You need to hit a temperature of 245-255 degrees Fahrenheit for the oil and you will compromise that if you keep adding more fat to the batch not to mention the splattering that you’ll have to endure. Do not allow your lard to get above 255 degrees Fahrenheit. Do this process singularly, batch by batch.
As the pork fat becomes clear, I take a METAL ladle and ladle it out, over a small metal sieve that’s securely set on top of my canning jar. To prevent the jars from cracking and to ensure that they are properly sanitized, you’ll need to have your jars set in a warm oven at 100-200 degrees Fahrenheit. As you are ready to ladle the clear lard out of the pan, you’ll take a jar from the oven, place it on a tea towel, and place a metal sieve on top which will prevent any of the small bits from going in your clean lard.
You’ll want to stir the lard as it cools in order to avoid a grainy texture. When you whip it or stir it while it cools, you’ll have a beautiful texture that will rival ANY commercial lard you’d ever purchase. (Yes, this part gets a bit tricky while I’m doing multiple batches of lard. This is about the time I yell “Honey?! Can you please come help me?”)
When the lard is completely cooled, meticulously wipe off the rims of the jars to ensure that no pieces remain. Then place a warm, lid right out of the boiling water on top of your jar. Fill each jar with just standard head space beginning right at the ring marks. Place a fresh sage leaf on the top of your cooled lard.
To preserve, you’ll use the pressure canning method of 100-120 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. (Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for high altitude.)
I take all of the cracklings, cool them down, and then freeze them until I’m making homemade dog food, cat food, spaghetti sauce, chili or other hearty soups. It’s so fun watching someone try to put their finger on this luscious taste of those dishes and just missing it—especially the dogs. *grin* You’ve never had the best cornbread until you’ve had cornbread made with the leftover cracklings from rendering lard!
The best source of pork fat for lard is what’s called the leaf and kidney fat. You can also use fat from any of the sellable trimmings. In fact, you can use just about any fat found anywhere on the pig just fine EXCEPT for the fat from the mesentery or caul (round the stomach), and the fat round the gut (ruffle fat). This part of the pig is unpleasantly odorous and darker in color—just not appealing in any way, shape or form UNLESS you’ve freshly butchered the pig from which the caul and fat round originate AND have thoroughly washed with no chance of the innards polluting them. I won’t even use it to make my pet foods. But you can make good soap from this fat. (I know, that sounds ironic that the smelly part of the pig makes good soap, but it’s weirdly true.)
You can also warm your fat in the oven for about 24 hours. This method obviously ties you to home for a long period of time AND it will eliminate the amount of delicious cracklings that you’ll get. (When seasoned with salt they are a bit addictive) It’s fine if something interrupts your heating process. Just cover it and start over again the next day—but no longer. It’s actually safer to do it in the oven but I just don’t like that particular time commitment.
You home-canned lard will last for years and years so long as you store it in a cool, dry place. If you have any water remaining in your lard batch it will cause it to go rancid. Rancid lard can still be used to make soap, but I wouldn’t recommend using it otherwise. Once it’s gone rancid, like Canola oil, it’s bad for you.
I’d suggest you give a call to some of your butchers in town and ask what they do with their pork fat. I’m willing to bet good money that you’ll find butchers who will GIVE you the pork fat. At the very least, it’s worth calling to see if you can’t purchase some for a great deal. You may also want to contact the professional butchers who butcher farm animals and inquire whether or not they are willing to sell the fat to you. Try getting BUTTER free or cheap like that! *grin*
Note: I have had friends do this process in much larger batches. But this is the way Grandma always did it and I just don’t want to risk it. The more fat I have in there, the more fat I can ruin at a moment’s notice. So I prefer to keep the batches small. I usually start this right before I’m making dinner. By the time dinner’s done, I’m ready to put the jars in the pressure canner and the canners’ done by the time I’m ready to retire for the night to read or what not.
Hot tip: If you use strong smelling foods such as onions, the next time you go to warm up your lard for deep frying, put a few slices of raw potato in the cooled lard as you begin heating the lard back up. Fry the potatoes until well browned which will help absorb the flavors/odors.
Never heat your lard above 400 degrees Fahrenheit and be sure to clean out food particles of the burnt piece will unpleasantly flavor your fat.
* When you’re using lard as a substitute for shortening add a ½ cup extra flour for every ½ cup of lard you use.
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