There’s something so elementally satisfying about the process of rendering lard, I…I don’t know how to fully express it. A sort of manly do-it-yourself pride combined with the boyish thrill of breaking a food taboo. As George Patton might have said: God help me, I do love it so.
The obvious question is: why? After all you can get lard in lots of places, especially Mexican grocery stores. My answer is: it’s fun to do and it tastes better. Home-rendered lard has no “xyz” additives if you’re concerned about those. Most importantly it has a milder, yet roasty-er flavor than the commercial stuff, since it’s made with higher quality fat and rendered at a higher temperature. Perfect for baking, in other words.
Be aware that the rendering of lard is something that’s best done outdoors, since rendering at its best is a long, slow process, and even relatively non-smelly leaf lard will still leave your house smelling like an all-day luau. You can render over a low flame or even better, in an oven. Since I’m in the very privileged position of having an outdoor brick oven, I do it there, with the residual heat leftover the morning after a pizza party. Crikey! Do I sound like Martha Stewart today or what? I don’t normally cook on an engine block, but if you happen to have a Bentley, the nice, flat piston covers are perfect for searing scallops after a jaunt to Martha’s Vineyard! I deserve all the ridicule that’s due me. Anyway, an oven temperature of 325 is about perfect.
Start with about 5-8 pounds of leaf lard (back lard will work also). As you can see, taken directly from the animal, it’s clumpy white with some greyish impurities (membranes and such) running through it. If you get it fresh off the farm, it will likely be in long pieces roughly in the shape of tenderloins. If you don’t know where to get any, ask a meat purveyor at your local farmer’s market. If they don’t have it, odds are they an tell you where to get it.
Cut the lard up into medium dice. If you’re using back lard, which will have more bits of meat in it, you’ll probably want to grind it instead. Place the fat in a roasting pan or Dutch oven.
Here’s an important part: add enough water to come a quarter inch up the pan. This will keep the lard from scorching, which affects the flavor. Some people like it that way: roasty-tasting. For baking though, the more neutral, the better.
Insert the pan into your oven, or put it over a low flame. Below I’ve got mine on a rack to keep it off the oven floor, which is hotter than I want at the moment. It’s important to heat it up slowly, because the longer the render, the higher the yield. Leave the pan in the oven (or over a flame) for several hours, until the lard reaches a temperature of 255 – 260 degrees (mine took five hours). This is the temperature at which all the water will have boiled out, leaving nothing but the pure lard.
Oh, wait! What are those crisping, crackling things floating on top? They’re what are known among the leading households of Europe as cracklin’s. You’ll want to save those, trust me.
Using a ladle, begin to spoon the liquid fat out of the roasting pan.
Pour it through a sieve lined with several layers of cheese cloth into a large, clean pot.
When the fat level gets low and the pan starts to cool, simply pour all its contents into the sieve and press the cracklings down with the ladle to squeeze out the last of the liquid (you may have to tip the sieve a little from side to side since the cheesecloth will start to get clogged with bits). When you’ve gotten most of the liquid out, put the cracklings back in the pan and the pan back in the oven to crisp them.
Ladle the golden lard into muffin tins…
…and put the tins in the refrigerator. The lard can be left at room temperature to firm, but the more quickly the lard comes down in temperature the smaller the fat crystals will be and the finer the texture of the finished product. Once the lard has firmed in the fridge, put the tins into the freezer.
Oh, and what about those cracklin’s? Ah yes, another 45 minutes and they’re nice and crisp. What do you do with those? If you have to ask, you don’t deserve any. Send them here to me by overnight mail (address to follow).
Now then, back to the lard. The next day, your frozen lard muffins will look about like this:
To de-pan them, insert a butter knife at the edge of the cakes…
…and just pop those puppies right out.
Put the cakes into plastic bags and store in the freezer for up to a year.
Lard will also store well in the refrigerator for a month. DO NOT store this kind of fresh lard at room temperature. It contains lots of unsaturated fats, and they’ll go rancid with time. Nope, for maximum enjoyment of your home-rendered lard, treat it well. Use for biscuits, pie crusts, breads, cakes, to cook or fry with.