Let’s talk about lard again.
I’ve already spoken at length about how we view fats in this country, and why we demonize lard in particular. I won’t be going into that again here, but I highly recommend you go back and read (or re-read) the original post if you haven’t, especially if you’re a meat eater and you’re still on the fence about using lard.
Long story short, I’ll eat lard any day over the trash pseudo-food we know as “shortening.” Yeah I said it.
But today, let’s specifically talk about rendering your own lard for cooking and baking. Yay!
Sourcing Fat for Lard
First, let’s start with your sourcing. Sure, you can buy lard in tubs at the grocery store – check the bottom of baking aisles where the shortening is kept. But these shelf-stable tubs tend to be chock full of preservatives and other things that, at best, make the lard taste meh, and at worst, feed you unnecessary crap.
You can also buy lard sourced from a local butcher or farmer who’s done the rendering for you. We’ve done this a few times, and have been happy with the product. However, this can get expensive fast if you use a lot of lard, as you’re paying for the extra labor (as well you should), and you’re not getting the delicious byproduct of rendering fat known as lardons. Mmmm.
So, where do you get fat to render your own lard? If you’re lucky enough to have meat vendors at local farmer’s markets, ask them for leaf fat or fatback (there is a difference, which I’ll discuss in a moment). You can try a local butcher, as well. If all else fails in the local department and you reaaaaaaally want to render your own lard, do some research for cool farms on the Internet that might ship you some fat. (I definitely recommend getting it as close to you as possible.)
Whatever you do, source your fat from a farmer that treats its animals well and actually lets them be, well, animals – outside, eating well, and able to move freely. Ask questions – a good farmer won’t be afraid to answer them.
Leaf Fat vs. Fatback (or Back Fat)
Which type of fat – leaf fat or fatback – depends on what you plan to do with your rendered lard. If you’re looking for a clean-tasting, fluffy white end product that you’ll use for baking pies and the like, go for leaf fat. This is the fat found around various organs of the pig and tends to taste less “porky.”
If you’re going for general frying and cooking fat and want to lend a pork taste to your food, go for fatback. (Leaf fat makes good frying fat, as well – it’s just a little more versatile than fatback.)
Okay, you’ve obtained the fat. Yay! Let’s make use of it.
Full disclosure: Most of the time when I render lard, I’m pretty lazy about it – I cut it into 1-inch chunks and throw it all in the slow cooker, stirring when I remember. Does this make the purest, most neutral-tasting lard in the world? Heck no. Does it make a tasty product I can use for cooking and baking, plus crispy lardons, with less work? Heck yes. You do you.
Step One: For the purest lard, you’ll want to cut the piece of fat into the smallest pieces you can manage. Use a sharp butcher’s knife or even kitchen shears. This ensures that you’ll render out as much of the stuff that will make your lard taste more porky – bits of cartilage and meat and the like – as well as render the lard more efficiently. Plus, you’ll get more and crispier lardons.
Step Two: Place the pieces in a Dutch oven or, my favorite, a slow cooker, and add about ¼ c water. If using the Dutch oven, cover and place in a 200-250 degree F oven and allow to render for about 8 hours, stirring frequently. If using a slow cooker, set the cooker to low and allow to render for 8 hours. Try not to let the mixture boil or stick – this will cause the lard to be darker and have a stronger taste.
Step Three: Filter out the bits (lardons) with a slotted spoon or sieve, and save for all kinds of things – salad topping, crispy bits for gravy, eggs, savory oatmeal, etc. If you really want very pure lard, you can filter the hot liquid through a cheesecloth into a glass container; otherwise, a fine-mesh sieve works fine.
Step Four: For longer-term storage, store lard in the fridge and use as needed. We tend to keep a small container near the stove for cooking and refill as necessary from the fridge. It keeps for quite a while – just keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t go rancid (smell fishy) or moldy.
Use it for just about anything you use butter or oil. Hooray, lard!