Lard is awesome stuff.
Unfortunately it’s been wrongly demonized to the point that the word lard connotes something gross, but the rational-minded fat lovers are slowly making a case for it.
An article by Regina Schrambling about lard on Slate in 2009 tells me that it’s truly becoming more mainstream. She says “Lard has clearly won the health debate.”
I say, hurrah! But sadly the American Heart Association and the folks responsible for USDA food pyramid have not yet seen the error of their ways, and continue to recommend a low fat and therefore higher carbohydrate diet.
It turns out that while lard might seem like the most saturated of saturated fats, it’s actually around 40% saturated, 48% monounsaturated, and 12% polyunsaturated.
Not that saturated fat is bad. Saturated fat is another one that has been wrongly demonized. Rather than causing heart disease, cancer, and obesity as we’ve been led to believe, it may actually help prevent them. For a summary of the nutrition of fats that contradicts the “conventional wisdom”, I recommend this article by Mary Enig, PhD, or this one by Kurt Harris, MD. Gary Taubes books Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat (I believe, not having read the latter and in process of reading the former) basically agree as well.
If you’d rather not read a book, read Taubes’ seminal article published in 2002 in the New York Times, What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie. But if you’re skeptical, please do start reading. The evidence is mounting and I urge you to avoid the “nutritional advice just changes every year” cop-out.
Incidentally, lard does NOT contain trans fats. Trans fats are produced when vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated to extend shelf-life and improve consistency of highly processed, shelf-stable “food” products. However, lard from a standard grocery store is likely to have been partially hydrogenated to extend its shelf life, so please avoid it.
A great quantity of healthy fat is one of the reasons we took the plunge on our first large meat purchase last fall, and bought half of a mature, 400 lb. sow. There were younger, smaller pigs available, but the sow promised the greatest quantity of high-quality lard, which we knew could keep us in cooking fat for a good long time.
Lard is also great for making pastries and pie crusts, if that’s something you are into. I don’t make many pastries or pies any more, and I don’t intend to do so more than about once a year for the holidays, but lard or bacon fat (which is just seasoned lard) is the go-to cooking fat in our house, we use it on a daily basis.
In fact, our homemade bacon has kept us in so much bacon fat that we have hardly dipped into the lard yet, but it should last a good long time in the fridge.
There are a variety of methods to be found by doing a google search, and most of them are based on the same two basic steps. First, slow cook the fat on low with some water to prevent browning, then strain. That’s pretty much it.
Many recipes also call for trimming the skin and bits of blood away before rendering. I’ve done this and I’ve also just tossed it all in a pot with skin and all, and I vastly prefer the latter method. Trimming skin off of cold fat is difficult and slippery work, and my lard still comes out pure white and creamy even after much of the skin has cooked down in the bottom of the pot. So I say save the trouble and throw it all in a pot.
You’ll need the following items:
- Good quality pork fat. (I wouldn’t bother with less than a pound, vastly more is fine too.)
- A nice heavy pot. (I’ve used my dutch oven in the oven, but I prefer my high-sided 12 quart stock pot on the stove because there’s less splattering and risk of spills.)
- Some clean jars to put your lard in when it’s done.
- A fine metal strainer.
- Some cheese cloth or other bits of clean cloth you don’t mind throwing away after. (I like to use spare bits of cheap white sheets that I’ve bought to make curtains out of, and pre-washed of course.)
- A jar funnel.
- A way to set up a jar with a jar funnel in it, with the strainer inside of that and the cloth inside of the strainer. (My strainer has a long handle on it, which I usually balance on my kosher salt box to help it stay perched atop the jar funnel, if that makes sense.)
And here’s what’ you do:
- If you want, trim away all the non-fat bits and cube the fat into 1″ chunks. Or if you don’t feel like it, skip this step.
- Put the fat in a pot and add some water. (.5 – 1 cup is a good place to start.)
- Put the pot on your lowest low burner, or if your pot is oven-safe, in a 200˚F or lower oven.
- Every half hour or so, give it a stir. If it’s starting to brown or stick it’s probably because the water has steamed away – add a little more water.
- After several hours, let the last of water cook off, and take the lard off the heat to cool.
- Once the lard is warm enough to not burn you while you are working with it, set up your straining system.
- Strain the lard into jars and set them aside to cool or put them right in the fridge.
The leftover solids are the cracklings. I don’t recommend throwing them away. Spread the solids out on a cookie sheet and put them in a 350˚ F oven to brown them up. They’ll release some more fat which you can then pour off into another lard jar. Sprinkle with a little salt and enjoy.
A couple notes if you do render pieces that have skin on them: skin contains lots of collagen and if cooked long enough will boil down to a sticky mess. This happened to my last batch and I just left a little more solids in the bottom of the pot as I was straining the liquid lard off. Then when I threw the solids on a cookie sheet to brown, quite a bit more fat separated out of the goopy solids, as they browned and solidified. I poured more fat off then continued to brown and crisp up the solids. A bit of a grosser process along the way, but the same delicious end result.