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I have been promising for a long time to do a post about rendering lard, so I thought it was finally time to follow up on that promise (that, and the frozen pork fat in the freezer was going to get frost bitten if left it for too much longer!). But for you skeptics, I will have to convince you of it’s worth.
What comes to mind when you think of “lard”? I don’t know about you, but lard has “bad for you” labeled all over it in my mind. But yet, it’s really not that bad after all!
In fact, there are several things about lard that makes it a superior fat to many (especially all of those new-fangled fats). First, it’s very high in vitamin D, a vitamin we are often in great need of. Second, one author was pointing out that lard’s composition was the closest to our body fat, so they considered it easier for us to handle. Thirdly, it’s the original shortening! The shortening you can by at the stores is decidedly one of the worst things for you. If you are going to stay away from something, stay away from that. Lard was once used in pies and tarts. Last, lard is definitely a food that our great grandmothers would recognize, so it passes the “real food” test hands down. It also makes the best mexican food. Oh yes, there are many uses for lard. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a great fat to use at high temperatures too?
But you have to be careful about buying it at the store as it’s usually partially hydrogenated which is bad news. If it’s stored unrefrigerated, stay away and always check the labels.
The best thing to do is render it yourself, so finally, here is my long promised post about how to render lard.
This last week, I had a large amount of lard to render so I decided to go ahead and do a comparison of different methods. The dry rendering process is when you don’t add any water during the rendering process. The wet rendering process is where you add a bit of water at the beginning to make sure it doesn’t brown too much at the beginning. And then I compared rendering it on the oven top to rendering it in the stove.
I found that the dry and wet rendering process gave me very similar products in the end (I really couldn’t tell the difference between the two), so I will be sharing the dry rendering process. Between the stove top and the oven, they are both very easy to do, so it’s really up to you which one you want to do. It is nice to have the lard contained in the oven, but, like I said, it’s up to you.
Finally, if you overcook the lard a bit, you will get a more “porky” taste and brown coloring. Good for savory dishes, not so much for pies.
Okay, so here we go.
How to Render Lard
What you need: About one pound of leaf lard (best grade, best for pastries) or fat back. You can get this from a local farmer at slaughter time, or at a local meat shop (they may have to special order it for you). I think there are also several places online that you can order from too.
For Stovetop rendering:
1-Cut the lard into small pieces and place in a pot over medium-low heat. The lard will start to slowly melt. Make sure to stir once in a while.
2-After about 20 minutes a big portion of it will be melted.
You will also at this point start to see the “cracklings” form. At this point you will want to be careful. Remember how bacon sputters? As moisture is released from the cracklings it will definitely sputter, and I even got a big splash of hot lard in my face at one point! When all of the sputtering is finished and the cracklings are floating, you are technically done. I let mine cook for a bit longer to get the cracklings a little more brown (don’t waste them, as they are quite yummy and can be used in many recipes too!). I think it took between 45 minutes and an hour to cook it.
3-Line a fine sieve with cheesecloth or a coffer filter and strain through into a jar. It will be yellowish when hot, but turn white when cooled. The cracklings will be left in the sieve.
I followed the following great directions from here for oven rendering. I found it took about the same amount of time as the stovetop version. It was nice to have it contained, but I didn’t watch it quite as carefully because it was out of sight.
“To render lard, grind it or chop it — this is easiest when then the lard is partially frozen — and put it in a 300-degree oven in a shallow casserole. Stir it often, and cook until the lard melts and the cracklings, called chicharrones in Spanish, are floating.
For a roasted pork flavor, render the lard in a 350-degree oven until the cracklings are brown. Cook until the cracklings sink to the bottom.
Strain your rendered lard through cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter. Cool and refrigerate for up to two months or freeze.
Frozen lard lasts for more than a year. Save the cracklings or chicharrones to enrich cornbread, burritos or tamales. Home-rendered lard adds wonderful flavor to baked goods like cornbread and bizcochitos and enriches refried beans.”