The Fear Of Fat
Rendering and using lard has gone by the wayside as our fat-obsessed culture has been reluctant to use it for fear of high cholesterol and blocked arteries. Deemed the “unhealthy” fat, we have turned to vegetable oil instead which we now know has caused us more harm than good.
One of the outcomes of the campaign against animal fats was the response by producers of breeding leaner animals. Heritage breed animals, known for their flavor and juiciness – and also for yielding about 33 pounds of fat – were sacrificed for leaner animals slaughtered at younger ages with a mere ten pounds of fat. Instead of rosy pink flesh marbled with fat we now have “the other white meat,” which is void of taste and flavor.
Some Fats Are Good For You
Fat from a pastured animal is a mixture of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fatty acids, but most of that fat is made up of a monounsaturated type in the form of oleic fatty acid. This is the same fatty acid found in olive oil and praised for its health benefits, such as lowering your risk of heart disease.
Remember that our bodies need saturated fats. We need them to absorb calcium and vitamins like D, E and A. For example, if you’re drinking non-fat milk with vitamin D added by the manufacturer, your body will have a difficult time absorbing both the vitamin and the calcium since it lacks saturated fat.
One of the many benefits of purchasing pastured pork from a local family farmer is that the meat from that animal will not only be rich in vitamins, but it will also be rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Health benefits aside, its flavor will be unlike any “white meat” you have ever had.
Additionally, pork fat’s low level of polyunsaturated fatty acid means it doesn’t turn rancid easily and is very heat stable, making it great for frying.
Know Your Pig
The pork lard you find at the grocery store is hydrogenated and filled with preservatives and chemicals, so it’s very important to find pork fat from a family farmer for your home-rendering.
The process itself is easy and has been done traditionally for centuries. However, it’s important to learn about the different types of fat from the hog in order to render each appropriately.
- Back Fat or Fatback – This is the fat that comes from the animal’s shoulder and rump. It’s literally the layer of fat directly below the skin, and it’s often sold with the skin still attached. Rendered back fat is great for sautéing and frying.
- Belly – The pork belly is the rich, soft, and firm fat layered with meat. In the United States we use it mostly to cure bacon. (That’s right – bacon is cured pork belly!) Because the meat is intertwined with the fat, it makes a great roast. Or, check out my steamed pork buns using pork belly.
- Leaf Lard – This is the fat from around the pig’s kidneys. It’s the cleanest fat and is, therefore, the crème de la crème of pork fat. Leaf lard is used to make perfectly flaky pie crusts and traditional Spanish polvorones. As such, you want to make sure to render it appropriately in order to have a pure white, odorless lard to use for your pastries.
The Basics Of Rendering
Rendering lard is pretty much just heating up the pork fat slowly so that it melts and separates itself from anything else within the fat. While it is easy enough to do, it can take practice to get it just right, especially if you want to make snow white, odorless leaf lard.
If the fat is left too long, the cracklings will start to burn, causing your lard to turn a deep yellow. It will end up with a piggie, chicharon type of smell and taste to it instead of being odorless. If you’re using the lard to fry, this isn’t a big deal, but be careful if you’re making pastries – you don’t really want your cookies and pies to taste piggie.
One thing to remember is once the pork fat starts to melt, separate it right away. Mix the remaining fat allowing more to fat to render out. There’s no magic number to how many hours it needs to render, but really, it’s going to take practice.
Have fun with it and don’t worry if it smells a little piggie. It still tastes great, and the health benefits make this process entirely worth it.
How to Render Lard the Right Way (Snow White, Odorless)
This method is using a crock pot and ground pork fat. Unless you are using a high end crock pot, it’s best to use a stock pot with the burner set at the lowest possible simmer. An ordinary crock set on low is still too hot and will probably cause the cracklings to burn. The more times you render lard, the more familiar you will get with your equipment!