Nourishing Fat: How to make your own Lard

Lard--the very word can conjure up images that we associate with obesity or unhealthfulness. But once upon a time, lard was considered to be essential to many food preparations, from the creation of succulent pastries made with pure, fine leaf lard, to the back fat used in frying and sautéing myriad dishes.

Fat is making a comeback, regaining it's place in our diets as an important component of the food we ingest. It contains important vitamins, most notably Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Healthy fats like lard increase the absorption of these vitamins as well as many minerals. As well, fats as part of a meal create a feeling of satiety, the result of fats' ability to slow down the process of digestion, making us feel full for longer after we have eaten, resulting in less snacking between meals. There's more to this story, and this class will begin to delve into the complex and richly marbled process of exploring how to process and use this once-maligned ingredient. Of course, the quality and nutritional content of any ingredient is directly dependent on the health of the organism it comes from. Lard in a can from the conventional supermarket is a poor substitute, both nutritionally and ethically, from the lard rendered from an animal which has spent it's life eating whole foods, with room to roam and wallow. But how to source such an ingredient, and what to do with those gleaming white slabs of whole fat once you've obtained them? As with so many ancient food traditions, we are (re) learning the wisdom of our ancestors, letting the past guide us into a future where all parts of the animal are honored and made useful. Welcome back, lard. We've missed you.

Rendering lard was once a common practice, which fell out of favor in the relatively recent past of the 1950's. It's a simple process, that requires only time and ingredients, with common kitchen tools. It can be done over a stove top or in the oven. All you need is a heavy bottomed pan and a strainer, and a little bit of patience. Leaf lard is the fat from around the kidneys of the animal, and is considered the creme de la creme of pork fat. It's brittle, crystalline structure is perfect for making pastries. Pure white, it imparts almost no flavor to the food. Back fat is traditionally used for frying, and it has a slight, savory flavor that reflects the diet of the animal. Which ever fat you are rendering, the process is the same.

Here's how to do it!

1) Prepare the fat

Chop 2 pounds of fat finely (1/4" chunks ideally). Pure fat, at room temperature can quickly become soft and slippery, making it hard to cut. Freezing the fat for 10 minutes before chopping it will make the job easier. The finer the fat is chopped, the more quickly it will melt.

2. Render the fat

On the stove top:
Put the finely chopped fat into a heavy bottomed pan, adding just enough water to the bottom to ensure that the fat does not stick or burn to the bottom before it melts. Cook on the stove top over low heat, for up to 5 hours, stirring occasionally.

In the oven:
Put the finely chopped fat into a roasting pan, adding just enough water to the bottom of the pan to ensure that the fat does not stick. Put in a 250° oven, uncovered and stir every 30 to 40 minutes, pressing the pieces against the pan in order to help them melt. Cook until the fat has melted, the water has evaporated and the pieces begin to brown slightly, approximately 3 to 4 hours.

3) Strain the fat

When all the cubes of fat have melted, there will be some material that sinks to the bottom of the pot and does not dissolve. These are the fibers in the fat, also known as cracklin's! Strain the fat into through cheesecloth or a clean metal strainer, into sterilized, DRY jars, leaving these (delicious) cracklings behind. (It is important that the jars are clean and dry to prevent spoilage.)

4) Store

Fill to the very top of the jar, or slightly below the top if you intend to freeze the lard for storage. The lard will keep in jars in the refrigerator for several months, or for a year in the freezer.

Over to You

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