Thursday, May 5, 2016
What's in these jars? Honey? Apple cider?
I finally took the big package of pork fat out of the freezer and rendered it all. It was a slow day. I don't know how many pounds of fat these six quarts represents - probably about fifteen or sixteen. The sliced fat filled my largest cauldron.
It's not all from our last pig - when I went to the butcher's to pick him up, there was no fat, which I had specifically asked for. The lady behind the counter said - "oh, let me go look."
A suspiciously long time passed. When she reappeared she apologized and said that the order to save the fat hadn't gotten written down. She gave us a big bag of pork fat that was clearly from a much fatter pig than our had been. I hope nobody else is missing their fat! Not likely - most people don't even want it.
Which is kind of hard to understand. Lard is a wonderful thing, assuming you like pork. Home rendered lard will not be odorless and tasteless like the lard at the store; it will have an unctuous, rich, porky taste. And contrary to popular belief, lard is not a terrible fat, health wise. In fact, it is probably better for you than butter or coconut fat, which is so trendy these days.
To render lard from pork fat, keep the heat on medium to medium-low. Even if all the pieces look like pure fat, there will always be skin and connective tissue, and you don't want to scorch it. As the fat starts to melt, add a cup or two of water. This will help you regulate the temperature (water is simmering = good) and also help avoid scorching. The water will boil off as the fat melts completely.
Occasionally stir and turn the fat to make sure all parts come in contact with the hot bottom of the kettle. The connective tissue and skin and little bits of meat here and there will start to fry, eventually becoming dark, crispy cracklings. These are not the same as chicharrones, which are made from pieces of actual skin. These cracklings will probably be too fatty or greasy to be good, except for the occasional piece of deep fried meat. They do make good dog treats, though in small quantities!
When everything is melted, the water has boiled off, and the cracklings are dark brown, you are ready to store the lard. I am storing mine in quart jars in the chest freezer, plus one jar open in the fridge, for everyday use. There's no need to actually can the fat - it will keep virtually forever in the fridge or freezer.
Simply wait an hour our so with the kettle on the lowest possible heat, for all the solid bits to settle at the bottom. Then you can ladle the clear lard off the top. The last little bit can be poured through a coffee filter. The lard in the photos above is still hot - when it cools it will turn almost pure white.
Lard has a myriad of uses in the kitchen. I probably wouldn't use this lard for pie crust, unless I were making a savory pie like a quiche. Might taste a little funny in a sweet pie. But you can use it as a regular sautéing fat; it's especially good for frying eggs or making fried rice. A spoonful of lard is the best medium for making refried beans. However my favorite use for lard is in tamales. There is nothing like the lard from a real pastured pig to make tamales taste fantastic. One of these days when we are all home and have nothing to do, we will get together and make a whole bunch of tamales together as a family. Here's how my mother-in-law taught me do it.
I don't think we will get a pig this year. We are going to be gone most of the summer and lately I've been feeling that we have quite enough animals already, thank you. Plus the pasture is still recuperating from the last pig. We have eaten most of that pig already - there's just some unflavored sausage and a ham left. But with all this lard I can have some pig flavor whenever I want, for the foreseeable future.