Sometimes, when thinking of these culinary projects I wonder if I’ve finally gone ’round the bend. When I told family and friends of plans to render my own lard I got reactions ranging from “oh my god that’s disgusting” to “why do you need that?!” I guess these responses aren’t all that surprising given North America’s obsession against fats and the general perception that lard causes heart attacks. But, anyone who grew up prior to 1940 or has since baked with lard will tell you it is culinary gold when making flaky pastry and authentic tortillas. After recently baking with store-bought lard I quickly became a convert. I realized my lifelong fears of cooking with the dreaded four letter word were entirely unfounded…but only if you render the lard yourself.
Unfortunately, the lard from the days of yore and the lard of today are much different. Commercially processed lard is hydrogenated to give it a half life of approximately 2,000 years. Aside from just plain being scary, the problem with hydrogenated fats is they contain the dreaded trans fats; known throughout the galaxy to be the root of all things evil in the food kingdom. When I set out to research lard in preparation of rendering my own, I realized I’m certainly not alone in my recent conversion to “Team Lard.”
In fact, Food and Wine Magazine, the SF Gate, and Slate Magazine all recently published stories extolling the virtues of lard and it’s resurgence in popular cuisine. It turns out, researchers discovered in some ways lard is actually better for you than butter or vegetable shortening.
This all brings us to my recent project of rendering and canning my own lard. Technically, you don’t have to can homemade lard. However, when freshly rendered lard only lasts for 4-6 weeks in the fridge. If you caught me harvesting sea salt you may recall I don’t believe in making things on a small scale. Rather than getting a sensible amount of pork fat I got 15 pounds from the local slaughter house. Call me crazy, but I can safely say the 10 pints of canned lard in the pantry will last my family the next 15 years.
Rendering your own lard is definitely worth the experience and the resulting biscuits were par none. However, if you have a crockpot definitely consider rendering your lard outside on the patio or driveway. The final lard doesn’t really have an odor and smells faintly of somewhere between pork rinds and bacon. However, the cooking fat was one of the most unpleasant smells I’ve smelled in quite some time. Adding to the party, the cooking bits of leftover skin and meat made the house smell like pork rinds for about 18 hours after we finished rendering the lard. Not really much of a problem but it became a little too much after a while.
Cook Time: 5-7 hours (give or take depending how much pork fat you have)
Yield: 1 pound of pork fat makes about 1 pint of rendered lard
Recipe inspired by: An intense obsession with eating non-mass produced foods…and authentic flour tortillas.
1 or more pounds of pork fat
about 1 cup of water
A pot or crockpot large enough to boil the pork fat
Directions for Rendering your Own Lard:
Rendering your own Lard. Before you begin, it is a really good idea to open the kitchen window to help with ventilation while the fat is cooking. After buying your fat, trim off any remaining bits of meat and chop the fat into small pieces. The smaller you cut the the pieces, the quicker the lard will render. The best option is to run the pork fat through a meat grinder. Add water to your large pot or crockpot until there is about 1-inch of water in the bottom of the pan.
Add your chopped fat to the pan. Place the pot on the stove top and cook over medium-low heat. Stir the fat occasionally to make sure it doesn’t scorch on the bottom of the pan; about every 15-20 minutes.
The fat will begin melting and the water will evaporate after about the first 45-60 minutes of cooking. Once this happens, the cracklings (or little bits of browned fat) will begin to float on the surface of the fat. Continue to occasionally stir the melting fat. As the fat begins to melt, you will want to stir more frequently; about every 12-15 minutes or so.
After about 5-6 hours of cooking, the cracklings will sink to the bottom of the pot leaving you with a yellowish-amber colored liquid. Your lard has now been rendered. Allow the lard to cool a little and then pour it through a fine strainer or cheesecloth. I used two strainers since we were fresh out of cheesecloth. The cracklings can be saved in an airtight container and used on top of salads in place of bacon bits.
Canning your lard. Allow the rendered lard to cool on the counter until it begins turning opaque. This will help prevent you from being burned by molten pig fat. While the lard is cooling, prepare your trusty water-bath canner for operation and begin heating the canning lids by placing them in a saucepan of simmering water. Pour the warm lard into sterilized 1/2 or pint-sized canning jars, leaving 1/2-inch headroom.
Place lids on each filled jar and tighten the lids with the canning rings. Place the filled jars in the water canner and process in boiling water (212° F) for 10 minutes (15 minutes in higher altitudes). Remove the jars from the water bath and allow them to cool at room temperature. The freshly canned lard will look like an amber liquid in the jars. However, once the jars have cooled the seals should be completed and you will be blessed with a lifetime supply of homemade culinary white gold that’s free of trans fats and additives.