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This post was originally published in December 2010. It has been revised and republished.
Did you know you can render lard at home?
Backing up: so, I'm really into natural saturated fats right now. Why? Because
- they are delicious,
- they're actually GOOD for you,
- they are generally unprocessed (unlike the dreaded CANOLA OIL – bah, humbug!)
- they don't cause heart disease (BOOM), and
- they are incredibly resistant to damage.
(If that information is new to you, please check out my extensively referenced, fun, myth-busting, bestselling book Eat the Yolks!)
Unlike vegetable oils (which, by the way, are NOT actually made from vegetables and are better called grain or seed oils), what we generally think of as “saturated fat” – that is, the fat from animals, palm oil or coconut oil, is far less processed, more nutritious, and more healthful.
Where seed oils are highly processed, stripped of nutrients, and chemically refined (see this video and tell me how that's “natural”), natural saturated fats are minimally processed, nutrient dense, and can be made at home.
That's right. You can render lard, and other fats, at home. You can't say the same about canola oil. Unless you've got a canola oil factory in your backyard. In which case…huh?!
Unfortunately, there's good evidence to suggest that highly processed fats – like those from seed oils, including canola, soybean, corn and cottonseed – could be setting the stage for, ironically, many of the ailments that saturated animal fat has actually been blamed for. LOTS more on that in Eat the Yolks.
I'd go so far as to say that the only fats we should be cooking with are the saturated fats, because they're stable and resistant to the damage that heat can cause. Oxidation or damage to seed oils, whether it occurs by heat or routine exposure to oxygen, can end up damaging the person that eats those seed oils. Yuck.
While non-industrial, non-seed oils like cold-pressed, minimally refined olive oil, macadamia nut oil, and other cold-pressed gourmet oils are safe for cold uses, and high-antioxidant oils like olive and sesame are save for cooking, for the most part, saturated fats are where it's at.
(Fun fact: “Saturated fat” is a bit of a misnomer. Most “saturated fats” are a blend of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat. Most fats in general, from olive to canola to lard, are blends of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. In fact, lard is pretty rich in monounsaturated fat, which is the kind of fat that olive oil is famous for. The dominant fat, and how solid a fat appears, is what determines what we call it. Get it? Good.)
I've been using my coconut oil Tropical Traditions and ghee from Pure Indian Foods, but I've been wanting to try rendering my own lard for years. Since I only use animal products when they're derived from properly-fed, pasture-raised creatures, it's a little tough to find lard that fits the bill locally. I was lucky enough to find some recently, though, which had me as excited as Buddy the Elf at Christmastime.
Lard, which is simply rendered pork fat, was used around the world for hundreds of years before it fell out of favor as the commercial vegetable oil industry grabbed a foothold and our anti-fat culture crusades began. This makes sense, because before modern food dogma and the processed food industry, we ate a lot more of the animals that died for our dinner. A lot less went to waste. If your grandma made a pork roast, she probably also rendered the lard from the pig.
So. Back to my lard-rendering adventures. I got my Leaf Lard (the most prized kind of lard) from Cherry Grove Farm.
First step in rendering lard is to chop it up. The Leaf Lard is like a brick and it takes a little muscle to chop it up, but once you're done it's smooth sailing. Just watch those fingers.
I recommend opening a window during this process if you don't like the smell of delicious.
Next, add about 1/2 cup of water per 1/2 pound of lard to a saucepan (this will keep the lard from browning immediately as it warms).
Add the chunks of lard to the saucepan and set heat to medium-low.
Don't overfill the pans!
Stir carefully every 20 minutes, watching for grease pops. (One of these is a good investment). You may hear loud pops – this is normal.
At around 40 minutes to an hour, your lard should look more like this:
These floaters are called “cracklings.” They're tasty!
At this point, you can turn off the heat, allow things to cool down, and strain the rendered fat through a colander or cheesecloth as I did (be careful)!
Cheesecloth can be found at most supermarkets or on Amazon and is very useful and inexpensive.
I allowed the rendered lard to cool for an hour, then poured it into mason jars. NOTE: I allowed my lard to brown a bit too much, which the interwebs stated could create a less neutral flavor. However, to me it tasted totally neutral.
To get a much lighter-colored lard, cook longer at a much lower temperature (you can even use a crock pot).
Once the lard solidifies, it will appear much whiter in hue.
Voila! Homemade lard. Take that, Canola!
Thanks for reading. If you've ever rendered lard, let me know your experiences in the comments!
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