Sunday, March 23, 2008

Real Food IV: Lard

Your great-grandmother would have told you that natural, homemade lard is an excellent cooking fat. It has a mild, savory flavor and a high smoke point. It's well suited for sauteing and frying foods, and it makes the flakiest savory crust. It's also cheap to buy and easy to render. Rendering lard is the process by which fat tissue is turned into pure fat. I buy the best quality lard available for $2/lb at my farmer's market, making it far cheaper than butter and olive oil of equivalent quality.

The best place to buy lard is at a local farmer's market. Look for pigs that have been "field-raised" or "pasture-raised", and are preferably organic. This ensures that they receive sunlight and have been treated humanely. The "organic" label by itself simply means they have been fed organic feed; the pigs will often not have had access to the outdoors. I recommend avoiding conventional (non-organic) pork at all costs, because it's profoundly inhumane and highly polluting. This is where I buy my lard.

If you don't have access to good quality local lard, there are a couple of sources on the Local Harvest website. Look for "leaf lard", which is the fat surrounding the kidneys. It's lowest in polyunsaturated oil and thus has the highest smoke point and the lowest omega-6 content. It's also practically pure fat. You will recover 90% of the pre-rendering volume from leaf lard. On to the recipe.


Ingredients and Equipment:
  • Lard
  • Cheesecloth
  • Baking dish
  • Jars
1. Preheat the oven to 225 F.

2. Cut off any pieces of meat clinging to the fat.

3. Cut fat into small (~1-inch) cubes.

4. Place them into a non-reactive baking dish and then into the oven.

5. Over the next 2-3 hours, periodically mash the fat with a potato ricer or the back of a large spoon. The fat will gradually separate from the residual protein as a clear liquid.

6. When you are satisfied that you've separated out most of the fat, remove the baking dish from the oven and allow it to stand until it's cool enough to be safe, but warm enough to be liquid.

7. Pour through a cheesecloth into jars. Save the "cracklins", these can be eaten.

8. If you plan on using the lard for crusts, cool it as quickly as possible by placing the jars in cold water. If the lard solidifies slowly, it will have a slightly grainy texture that works less well for crusts, but is irrelevant for other purposes.

Finished lard has a long shelf life but I like to keep it in the fridge or freezer to extend it even further.

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