I first made lard by accident, sort of. I went to my local butcher and asked to buy lard. He asked me (believe it or not) what that was and I said ‘pork fat’.
When I got it home, I realised he’d given me a bag of chopped chunks of pork fat, still with the skin and bits of meat attached.
Not what I’d had in mind!
But, as is often the case, when you think life’s thrown you a curve-ball, it turns out to be a gift. With the help of our good friend Google I learned that I could make lard from the little bag of goodies that the butcher had given me. This is called rendering fat and the method also works for duck fat, chicken fat (schmalz) and beef fat (tallow).
Now for why you would want to make lard or any other rendered fat (rendering just means melting, by the way). If you’ve read my page on fats you’ll understand that saturated fats are an important part of the diet. They are stable which means they do not go rancid easily and are safe for cooking at high temperatures (such as for frying).
You can buy ready made duck fat and lard from your supermarket but these are usually:
a) Expensive (in the case of duck fat)
b) Hydrogenated (in the case of lard). Lard is often hydrogenated to extend the shelf life. It should say on the packet, so if you want to buy ready-made, make sure you check first.
The other problem with store bought rendered fats is that you don’t know their source, ie the quality of the animal that it comes from. Toxins are stored in fat, so if your lard comes from factory-farmed pigs fed hormones and antibiotics, then you can bet your left arm that the lard will contain these substances too. By buying free-range and organic fat, you can minimise your exposure to these substances.
But rendering fat is so hard! And it takes ages! Right?
The good news is that rendering a fat is really simple and only takes about 20 minutes or so (and most of this time, you don’t even have to do anything).
Here’s how it works:
1. Go and buy 500g pork fat (or other animal fat if you prefer) from the butcher. If you’re really lucky, he’ll cut it into 1cm cubes for you – otherwise you’ll need to do this when you get home.
2. Once the fat is cut into cubes, throw it all in a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Make sure the chunks of fat are in a single layer in the pan so that they all have contact with the pan.
3. Keep an eye on it, and when you see that it has started to release some fat (there’ll be liquid in the bottom of the pan), turn the heat down to medium low.
4. Give it a quick stir to make sure it’s not sticking and then make yourself a cup of tea – we’re just going to leave it bubbling away for a bit.
5. Check back every so often and give it a bit of a stir. you’ll notice that more and more oil is being released and that the chunks of fat are shrinking and turning golden.
6. Once the chunks are a nice golden colour and look like they are no longer releasing any oil, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
7. While you’re waiting for it to cool, wash an appropriate sized glass jar with very hot water, making sure it’s squeaky clean.
8. Once the contents of your pan is no longer lava-hot, strain it into a bowl using a fine mesh sieve.
9. Pour the liquid fat into your clean jar (I use a funnel but maybe you have superior pouring skills), and store in the fridge where it will keep for at least a month.
10. The golden chunks of fat can be eaten as a snack or thrown to the birds. If you want to eat them, spread them out on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Once dry, you can sprinkle them with salt and munch on them as a tasty, crispy, salty snack. My daughter loves them!
Once you’ve made this a few times, you’ll be able to do it with your eyes closed (Disclaimer – this is just a figure of speech. I’m not actually suggesting you work with sharp knives and hot fat with your eyes closed).
Keep some rendered animal fat in the fridge as a staple at all times. It is great for frying and can be used in place of butter in many recipes – our favourite being duck fat potatoes!
by Mel Duncan