Sunday, June 13, 2010
Rendering Lard, and Tallow
If you have never made a pie crust or cooked fries with your own rendered lard or tallow, you are in for a real treat!
Don't be tempted to take the easy path and purchase lard at the grocery store. It isn't the same thing! It comes from factory animals, it is hydrogenated, and it usually has added deodorizing agents, emulsifiers and anti-oxidents. Plus, it has none of the nutritional values.
Why render lard and tallow? It's easy; it's economical, it's tasty, AND it is good for you!!
Rendering your own lard or tallow is very economical, and maybe downright cheap or maybe even free. You can buy fat at a butcher shop, or from a local farmer who raises meat. The leaf fat I used for my tallow was free from a local processing operation.
The rendered lard or tallow from grass-fed or pastured animals is a beneficial saturated fat. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon have written a great article on the many benefits of saturated fats here. Short form is they make up 50% of our cell membranes, giving them the needed stiffness and integrity. Saturated fats are required for proper utilization of essential fatty acids like Omega-3, and they play a vital role in the health of our bones. There's much more they do, so do take a look at that article.
Before getting to rendering, here are some definitions.
Lard traditionally comes from the pig. Some beef lard is sold, although it's a misnomer. The USDA requires rendered and commercially sold beef fat to have 'lard' on the label. Any fat from a pig may be used to render lard, but there are actually three grades of pig fat used in rendering.
The best grade is called 'leaf fat' sometimes called flare fat, and it is the fat that is deposited around the kidneys and in the loin. It has almost no pork flavor. This is the fat which, after rendering, is preferred by bakers because of an absence of pork taste, and because the larger fat crystals help produce flaky, moist crusts.
The next grade is the fatback, the hard subcutaneous fat between the skin and the muscle.
The lowest grade, which I cherish and would NOT use for rendering, is caul fat. It is a somewhat fragile, fatty spider-web which surrounds the digestive organs/intestines. In my book, it is best used to wrap a lean roast, and in pâtés.
The cooking fat from cattle or sheep is known as suet, or tallow. It's suet before rendering, then it is tallow. Suet is the hard fatty tissue around the loins and kidneys, sometimes also called leaf fat, and it renders out at about 95%. The tallow I rendered (shown above) came from the leaf fat of cattle. It was a long strip encased in a cellophane-type membrane, and had a very waxy feel rather than a fatty feel. When I peeled the membrane, the fat broke into hard waxy chunks. There were small bits of kidney which peeled off easily. I sautéed the bits for my cats!
This particular tallow shown above will not be used for cooking because it did not come from pastured-only cattle. Instead I plan to make candles, or soap.
There are three easy methods for rendering, although I use just one of them. One method is stovetop, placing the fat in a pan of water, which requires constant attention during the process.
The method I use is dry-rendering in an oven, which you have preheated to 200ºF. Chop the fat into small chunks, or grind like hamburger. The smaller the pieces, the quicker it will render. Place the pieces in a large heavy pan. You can add water so the liquid fat can be skimmed off the top but I do not. (Mainly because I have a had time getting all the water out.) I have only tried the water method once, but lately I have read that wet-rendering is milder in taste than dry-rendering, so I will have to try it again. It may take several hours depending on chunk size and quantity. Eventually it will all be liquid with some browned bits in it. Do not throw those away... sprinkle on a little salt and they make a tasty snack! (Note, you may have to increase the heat a bit, but too much heat and you will give it an unpleasant taste.)
A third method, which I have not tried, is to use a crockpot. Since I don't really know details first hand, my guess is to set your crockpot on low. All the rest of the instructions would be the same, and I suppose you could do either wet-rendering or dry-rendering.
Once rendered, the liquid will be fairly golden, but when cool it will be white if lard, or cream-colored if tallow. When I first rendered the tallow above, it was semi-soft when cooled. The next day I rendered it again at a slightly higher temperature, and it was much harder when cooled. Since I was aiming for candles, I didn't worry that higher temps would break down the nutrients.
Once your fat is rendered, strain it through a metal strainer lined with tightly-woven cheesecloth (I actually use butter muslin) into sterilized canning jars, although any jar will do. Maybe you could use a coffee filter instead of cheesecloth, but I've never tried.
If you strain it into canning jars while it is still hot, just and add a lid and ring, and tighten securely. It will seal as it cools. Store in a cool, dark place. My tallow is still so hard after sitting open 18 months that I have no clue how long it would keep, perhaps forever. The lard in jars should keep several months, or more. Chances are you will use it all long before then...