The mere mention of lard quite often terrifies a lot of people. Animal fat is bad for you, isn’t it? Well, only if you consume it excessively. Rendering fat has been around for centuries, and if you do some research you’ll probably learn that it’s better for you than many other fats.
When using it in cooking you’d probably notice your food tasting much more flavoursome. Roast vegetables, chicken, pie pastry or almost anywhere you’d use butter or oil. Although you’d probably want to use leaf lard if you’re using it in pastries. It’s odourless and flavourless. Back and belly fat will still retain a bit of the pork aroma and flavour, which goes beautifully when roasting root vegetables and cooking other meats.
There are a few methods for rendering fat at home. You could do it in a crock pot over a few hours or use the wet method that involves simmering the fat with water. I used the dry method with the pork back fat I got from my local butcher, and it only took 1½ hours from start to finish for the quantity I’ve outlined below.
Should you give this a go I can only stress that you use fat from an organic pig, ask your butcher where the pig came from and how it was raised. Once you have your fat you need to cut it into small pieces. I made mine about 1.5 centimetre square. If there’s still some skin or a little meat attached it doesn’t matter. This will only cook down and shrink into tasty little chunks of crunchy goodness.
I started off with 1½ kg of pork back fat which I put into a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Higher heat will result in discolouring your fat and probably burning it. As soon as you get it going be sure to turn the extractor on or open a few windows and doors. The smell of what you’re about to do can be quite powerful.
Every 30 seconds or so you need to give the fat a stir with a spoon; just to keep it frequently moving and cooking down evenly. After about 10 minutes you’ll notice that it starts to go opaque in colour and a bit wobbly in texture.
After more frequent stirring you’ll see that the fat is beginning to render down at about 10-15 minutes. Keep it all moving every 30-60 seconds as it simmers gently.
At about 40 minutes I could see I was nearing the halfway point of the fat turning into liquid. I turned off the heat here and allowed the simmering to stop so that you can see how much it had progressed. I also poured almost half of the fat into a fine mesh strainer lined with muslin, letting it strain into a bowl.
Continue simmering gently and stirring occasionally. You can see in the above left photo that the chunks of fat have taken on a light golden colour 1 hour fifteen minutes into the cooking. Continue a while longer – I did it for another 15 minutes – until the fat chunks turn a little crispy and quite golden. This is when I turned the heat off and strained the fat through the muslin.
Leave the strained rendered fat until it is room temperature, then pour it into dry and very clean mason jars. Put the lid on and store in the fridge for several months. You can freeze it for much longer, but if you do, be sure to keep it in a plastic container.
1½ kg of pork fat yielded just under 1 litre of rendered fat.
As for the solids that were left behind in the strainer, you can finely chop and toss them through a salad or simply sprinkle with salt and eat them. Not in one go, mind you, your arteries may not like it!
Keep them in a plastic container in the fridge.