Kitchen projects excite me. While many think I may be a bit “off my rocker” as they say, for driving an hour to a farm more than a little off the beaten path to pick up 10 pounds of pig fat, then coming home to render the fat – which in turn casts a pig farm-esque smell over everything we own. I don’t understand. What is obscure about that?
It was in the name of perfect pie that caused this sudden NEED for freshly rendered pig lard. It seems as if there has been a bit of buzz around the glistening white fat and I wanted in on the action.
Most specifically I took note when I read that the pie queen herself, Kate McDermott (artofthepie.com), uses it for her sought after crust. Her flawless pies have been seen in Saveur and she has taught Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, a thing or two about pie.
Now having tried Kate’s recipe I am a convert. The balanced combination of lard and good quality butter is the key to creating a crust that is as tender as a first kiss while maintaining buttery flakes that fall into your lap like delicious snow (come to think of it – I would enjoy snow a lot more if the flakes were buttery pie crust and not cold, frozen rain).
While gushing over the joys of my latest kitchen project there have been many devoted food lovers who don’t think I’ve lost my marbles, conversely they want lard of their own and have inquired into the rendering process. So for them and everyone else who is curious my husband and I have created this short stop-motion video for you.
The process is simple and the best part is that you end up with two products for the price of one. Of course you get lard – a fat that is excellent in baked goods, the key to perfectly fried chicken and it’s good in, well – just about anything. But what you also get, as a reward for your efforts, are cracklings. Deep fried pig skin that make a wickedly tasty snack, topping for salad, taco filling, etc.
To render the lard cut about 1 1/2 – 2 pounds into small chunks.
In this case I am using Leaf lard. Leaf lard is the highest quality lard, perfect for baking as it doesn’t have a meaty smell to it. Next in line is Fat back. Either one you use the method is the same.
Using the stove top method set a large pot over medium-low heat. Add about 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the pan – this will help the lard not to burn and will evaporate as the lard is rendering.
Stir every 10 minutes to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. After some time (an hour or so, mine took a bit less than that) you will start to hear popping. That is the sound of the moisture leaving the cracklings and it is also a sign telling you things are moving along and you should stay close by. Stir every couple minutes.
If you want a flavorless lard, ideal for baking, then now is the time to drain off the fat. Line a mesh strainer with several layers of cheese cloth and strain into a bowl. The cracklings will still be pale and need to be cooked longer.
If you are going to be using your lard for savory applications or you want the finished lard to have a nutty, roasted flavor then continue to render until the cracklings are a dark golden color. Eventually they will sink to the bottom. Some people use that as the sign of when they are done but I pulled mine just before that point and ended up with a roasty lard that had a pleasant color and flavor.
I plan to use it for both sweet and savory. Your resulting baked goods will have a subtle nutty savory quality that I find very pleasant and balances out the sweetness quite nicely.
Another way to render is to put the cut up lard in a large pot with a lid (such as a dutch oven). Put the covered pot in a 200* oven and let it render overnight. In the morning strain your fat and have cracklings for breakfast.
Store the lard in an airtight container in the fridge. Once cool the lard will be the texture of shortening and ranging in color from stark white to pale yellow – depending on when you stopped the rendering process. The lard can also be frozen. I’ve heard that frozen lard will last at least a year. Some people say it will keep indefinitely.
Around the web you can find numerous fantastic resources for rendering. These are what helped me:
Rendering lard is a simple process with the resulting product being a luxiourious fat that lends a melt in your mouth texture and a subtle flavor that is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
For me it is also a way to connect with your food. To appreciate all that the animal has to offer us and return the gift of its life by honoring every part. Praise the lard! And thank God for an abundant bounty of incredible food that surrounds us.