Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our Adventures Rendering Lard

When we ordered our half hog last winter, the final question on the order form asked us to circle the, what you might call, leftover parts that we wanted to keep. Things like liver and heart, which we still have no idea how to use, and lard, which we knew would be very useful. Our share of the hog included 11 pounds of lard, and just recently we decided to do something about it.

That's half of the lard, as it arrived from the locker. It doesn't come in the most attractive package. But then again, we're talking about 5 pounds of frozen ground pork fat, which is kinda hard to dress up. In this state, lard can't really be used for much. It has to be rendered, or cooked down, to get a product that can go into pastries or cooking. We began by opening the package and chopping the frozen chunk into smaller pieces so they'd melt quicker.

We placed the pieces into our stock pot, and set it on the stove on a low heat setting.  It is important to melt the fat slowly without scalding it, otherwise the lard will have a yellowish-brown color and will smell rather "piggy."

After a few hours, the fat had completely melted.  There are lots of little solid bits suspended in the melted fat.  These are commonly referred to as "cracklins," which are basically connective tissue that was in the pig's fat. You can keep these after you're done rendering lard, and fry them up to eat. We tried that with a small portion of our cracklins but didn't really enjoy them enough to do the rest. It must be an acquired taste...

To get the lard which we did want to keep, we needed to filter out the cracklins.  We used two colanders stacked together with a layer of cheesecloth between them.  The cheesecloth allowed us get rid of even the smallest solid bits and using two colanders helped keep the colanders from getting clogged up.

The five pounds of lard that we started with ended up rendering down to about 1 1/2 quarts, which we divided up into two quart-size canning jars. Right out of the stockpot, it was a slightly yellow liquid, which made it easy to pour. Unfortunately, it didn't look terribly appealing straight away. Thankfully that went away as it cooled, and we were left with...

Snow-white, fluffy lard. It has solidified somewhat from its earlier liquid state, but it's still recommended that you store it in the freezer or the fridge so it's easier to scoop and measure it. This is the state in which you can use it in baking or cooking, typically in a place where a recipe would call for shortening.

Which, of course, we just had to try! We had over a quart of brand new lard, and we wanted to make a pie crust with it. Now, as a warning, this lard does retain a little bit of its pork flavor, so you'd probably want to stick to savory pies. Leaf lard, the fat from around the hog's organs, is supposed to be virtually flavorless, so you could use it for a dessert pie, though we haven't gotten around to that just yet.

We followed a recipe from one of our cookbooks (The Good Cook) for a lard-based pie crust. Stacia rolled out a perfect-sized crust, which we then prebaked. This one was going to be used for a quiche, so we filled it with a mixture of scrambled eggs, bacon from the same hog, and a lot of spinach from our garden.

It was so beautiful when it came out of the oven! Thankfully it was just as delicious as it looked. The pastry crust came out light and incredibly flaky, with maybe just a hint of savory pork flavor. A suggestion we found that we definitely want to try next time is to make the crust with half lard and half butter. This yields a best-of-both-worlds result, with the amazing flakiness of the lard, but with the added flavor of butter. That's for next time; for this time we were satisfied enjoying our first of many homemade quiches!

Rendering lard probably isn't for everybody, but it's not really that hard to do. Of course, it starts with having a source of unrendered fat, which you pretty much only end up with if you buy a half hog. But the cooking process was relatively painless, although it did take several hours. There did end up being a little bit of a pork-y aroma in the kitchen, but it wasn't too potent. And we can take a little bit of that if it means we get to eat fantastic quiches and pies! We're certainly glad we checked "yes" on the lard part of our hog order form.

We'd like to thank our farmer for all of the help we got from this great tutorial on rendering lard!

This post has been shared with Simple Lives Thursday.

1 comment:

  1. My parents made lard all the time growing up. Next time try making craklin cornbread. That brings back great memories. Great post.