Good Food Reads

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Over My Dead Fat Back!

The Lard Experiment! A Story, and then some.

Where do I begin? Is it with the hours of phone calls to butchers to find a supply of animal fat - only to find out I had to go to a federally inspected butcher? Is it hauling my two children and a friend's son on a road trip 2 hours from my home to pick it up (telling them we were going to the zoo which was a short stop on the way home)? Would it be droning on to the poor butcher on the other end of the line about different fats and can I buy them separated? He is a small town butcher completely unaware of the undercurrent...
of pure foodies. Are the animals given hormones? Is the cow for the suet pastured or grain-fed? Or would I begin with the actual render? Maybe the marital discord that ensued over the smell of our home in June when the air conditioner has gone out and I have hot fat on the stove all day. It's so hard to decide.

I will just start with my pros/cons and pearls of wisdom that went along with my rendering experience. I found a butcher and 'yes' it was a long trip to get it. It was 50 cents a pound. How could I resist when rendered leaf lard online is $5/pound? I bought 80 pounds each of suet (cow) and lard (pig). It didn't take long to recognize which cuts were from the kidney of the cow. I recognized it after watching people render their tallow on youtube. As far as I know tallow is the word for rendered suet. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - but just on this issue. Otherwise it would be too overwhelming.

I have a 24 quart stock pot. I just bought it and it has been working hard for me. I loaded it up and filled up the pot the rest of the way with water. That was mistake number one. Only add a few inches to the bottom. Otherwise it takes forever for the water to boil off and slows the render. Turn it to low or medium-low and let it go, stirring every 15-20 minutes or so. Lots of blogs grind the fat or cut it up. I had too much to render, no grider and too dull of knives. I also had a deadline. Husband was out of town and I really wanted to get it done before he got back. I have tried a lot of strange things lately but this one was reminiscent of the show 'Dirtiest Jobs'. He is supportive but really - there needs to be some boundaries and this would clearly cross it. Bottom line here is it rendered fine not all cut up. I am sure it took longer. It was a good 5-6 hours on the stove but for me, considering the volume, it was fine.

Helpful tip: If you can, render it outside. I have a burner on our BBQ grill on the deck. This was a much better choice than in the kitchen. I also have a double burner Camp Chef thing. I picked up some propane, borrowed a pot from my folks and got two going at once. I could render about 20 pounds per pot and had a 40-lb box done in an afternoon. That was much better. It is greasy and messy and stinky. The chef and I both smelled like pork fat and had to shower to get the smell out of our hair.

Finishing up: I was really surprised how long it took. There is a definite look to it when it is finished. The lard render or what is left really looks like crispy fried chicken. Lots of people eat the cracklings but after being knee deep in fat for days, I couldn't even bring myself to try the cracklings. I let it cool quite a bit and strained it through butter muslin folded to make 4 layers over a colander. It worked well. I froze it in one pint mason jars for lack of planning. Those were on hand. It came out clean and white. It was so gratifying. Cleanup; however, was less so. But in the garage utility sink with all the kids in bed, it wasn't so bad.

Cooking with the lard: Because I just had fatback, I wanted to try frying. I made some homemade tortilla dough and heated up the lard. I rolled out the tortilla and fried it. It was delicious. I was afraid the taste would be affected by the slight scent but it was no problem. I could smell it slightly as it was heating up and cooling but it wasn't too strong and didn't flavor the tortilla. We, the chef and I, also tried sweet potatoes (a little soggy) and a regular potato (good). The potato still wasn't as crispy as I expected but it could have been our process or maybe we needed it hotter. I think it was around 330 degrees.

Today, I took the jars to the food club meeting and gave one away to anyone who was brave enough to try it. Keep in mind that food club is just a meeting of a bunch of neighbors and friends trying to cook a little healthier. Each of us has different philosophies, with a similar vein, about how to go about doing this. I always get several eyebrow raises when I show up with lard or clabbered milk waffles for tasting. So we shall see what they think.

The Chemist,

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