Pork and Pickles

These are a few of my favorite things


4 Comments

Why Lard is Awesome, and How to Render Your Own

By now you’ve heard that lard really can be good for you – it’s WAY healthier than your vegetable-based shortenings and it makes a great pie crust to boot. I’m not a nutritionist (YET) but I do know that lard contains a huge amount of monounsaturated fat, a good amount of polyunsaturated fat, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and yes, a bunch of plain old saturated fat as well. It IS an animal product, in the end. But I feel like the benefits of the mono- and polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids are enough to recommend lard over vegetable-based fats. I don’t even want to get into the sustainability of pastured pork vs. the soy, corn, and cottonseed oils that make up many vegetable shortening products.

When my family bought our first half hog from Anderson Farm, I was asked if I wanted the lard. Of course I said yes, figuring that I’d find the time to render it that winter. I was clearly delusional to think that parenting small children would allow me to babysit a kettle full of hot fat all day, and the lard sat in the deep freeze until I had the time and energy to tackle it. The directions I found were simple enough – put it in a heavy kettle over low heat, add a little water to keep it from burning, and let it melt slowly over the course of several hours. I ended up with a huge mess and many pint jars of gorgeous white lard. I believe my son tied himself to the playset that day while I was filtering lard and I somehow spilled a bunch of it on the kitchen floor in my hurry to grab the camera before I untied him (I’m no uncaring mother, it was just THAT funny). I put the jars into the freezer and pulled them out one at a time, using the lard to saute veggies, season my cast iron skillets, and make heavenly pie crust.

I found a small package of lard in the freezer this morning and decided it’d make a great start to this blog. Rendering your own lard really IS simple and it’s completely worth the time and effort.

Step 1: Get some lard. Mine comes from the farmer who provides our meat, but you can get it from the butcher, your food co-op (I know that Seward Co-op has it and would expect that Mississippi Market and others would as well), or a pork vendor at the farmer’s market.

This is what my lard looks like when it arrives – frozen solid.

Step 2: Put the lard in a heavy pot – I’m partial to enameled cast iron – and add a bit of water. Turn the burner on as low as you can set it, put a cover on the pan, and let it warm up and start to melt. Turn the block over from time to time to make sure you don’t end up with dark spots. Once it’s all melted, leave the lid off to allow the water to evaporate out.

Pot-o-lard

Pardon the filthy stove – I’ve been processing tomatoes.

Step 3: Ladle out the fat as it melts and run through cheesecloth to filter out the lumpy bits. I forgot to photograph this part, but it really IS that simple – line a basket strainer or colander with cheesecloth and run the liquid lard through it into a glass or metal container. I use a 1- or 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup, since the handle and spout make the task of pouring the filtered lard into storage containers that much simpler. I’ll cover the storage containers in a minute, but let’s move on to the next step.

Step 4: Once you’ve dipped out as much fat as you can, even going so far as to leave the cracklings (the meaty leftovers) draining over the bowl for a while, dump everything onto a rimmed baking sheet. Place that in a 250° oven for a while to allow the cracklings to render their remaining fat and crisp up. Filter and reserve this fat as well, but be aware that it’s going to have a markedly more meaty flavor and odor. It’s fantastic for sauteeing veggies and whatnot.

Spread ’em out as thinly as you can and throw the pan into the oven to finish rendering.

Step 5: Storage. I like to use pint jars, since I have lots of them around. I’ve also frozen lard in ~1 pound blocks by lining a plastic freezer container with plastic wrap and pouring in the cooled but still liquid lard. Chill to let it harden, then pop the brick out of the container and wrap with a couple layers of tinfoil. Label blocks and jars well and put them in the deep freeze. I honestly don’t know how long this stuff will stay good, but it’s my personal experience that it gets used up before I have to worry about it getting freezer burned.

The jar on the left is the fat I strained off of the pan of cracklings. As you can see, it’s quite a bit darker than the other two. The golden color should lighten as the lard cools, but I honestly can’t remember what it looked like last time!

Step 6: Use your nutritious, delicious lard! Cook hash browns in it, use it to saute vegetables, make the best pie crust you’ve ever tasted! I’ll cover the pie crust in the future, but for now I recommend you check out The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Berenbaum. Her method is fiddly but produces a very nice crust.

As for the cracklings, I’ve seen many people mention sprinkling them on top of beans, folding them into cornbread batter, and just eating them plain. I don’t personally care for the texture or flavor of the crumbles I end up with, so they get stuffed into a storage bag and forgotten in the back of the freezer. If I were a more conscientious consumer I’d find a way to utilize them. Maybe they’d be tasty on top of a salad instead of crumbled bacon!

Thanks for visiting, and I hope to have another post for you in a few days!