Friday, November 22, 2013

Rendering Lard

I realize that I may sound like I'm a little nuts, but hear me out.  You know what fat makes a great pie crust?  Lard. What do you know about lard?  Probably not much.  Lard is fat that has been rendered from a pig.  Chicken fat is Schmaltz, beef fat is Tallow.  Lard (at least as I will discuss it) is fat from a pig.  Depending on what part of the pig the fat came from, it will have different qualities.  The purest, cleanest, least porky-tasting lard is leaf lard.  Where is that fat from?  It is a sack of fat that surrounds the pigs kidneys.  If you are up to rendering your own lard, IMO, the only lard worth going to the effort of rendering is leaf lard.  If you are conscientious about what type of pig you are getting your lard from, it can also be fairly good for you.  A pastured hog, which is what the butcher shop that I get my lard from buys, will give you a very high omega3:omega6 fat ratio, plus tons of Vitamin D.  And you have the added peace of mind knowing that the pig was happy and healthy and able to live out its life doing pig things, instead of being horrifically abused.  Storebought lard is a)NOT leaf lard, leaving your baked goods with a porky flavor, b)made from sad pigs, and c)hydrogenated and shelf stable - NOT good for you. Regardless, there are a number of valid reasons to render your own lard, but most importantly, leaf lard will provide you with a beautiful fat to make epic pie crusts.

Unrendered Leaf Lard

Rendering lard is not a pretty process.
In fact, it's downright yucky.  But if you can handle raw chicken, you can handle lard.  The pieces are just larger when you're dealing with leaf lard.  About 5 minutes into chopping it up, I just started giggling, realizing how comically yucky it was.  I have read that some people will actually use a meat grinder to grind up the lard, which also apparently gives you a slightly higher yield, but then you have to clean your meat grinder!  For now, I think I'll stick with chopping.

Unrendered Leaf Lard


Rendering lard can be a little stinky.
Last time I did it in our crock pot, and cooked it low and slow for about a day, IIRC. And it smelled.  Like lard.  After that, Craig banned me from rendering lard in the house.  Crockpotting outside would work, but if you're like me (forgetful) it's probably not a great plan.  I did a little bit of reading this year, and found that lard can be rendered "sous vide," or in a vacuum packed baggy in a water bath (which I did in my crock pot).  The sealed baggies do not stink, however there is a small amount of water from the fats that will need to be removed post-rendering.

Unrendered Leaf Lard, vacuum sealed

Rendering lard CAN be time consuming.
I keep reading things about how people rendered lard in as little as a few hours.  I have never experienced this and gotten away with lightly colored lard. The low and slow method has worked for me, so that's what I use.  I cooked mine in a lowish water bath for nearly 24 hours before straining off the solids in a wire mesh strainer, cooking them in a nonstick skillet, and draining them again(into a separate container, in case the heat from the skillet caused them to develop color.  Then I set aside the solids in another bowl, the dogs will love them.

Rendered Lard, cooled in the fridge overnight


I rendered out about 3lbs of lard in this batch.  It got me about a quart of fully rendered lard.  In my photo,  you can see a thin layer of liquid at the bottom of my container.  I will pop the lard brick out, scrape off the gelatinous water layer(feed that to the dogs too!), and then remelt and strain through a coffee filter to ensure there are no additional chunks of anything.

rendered lard