How to Render Lard – and advice on cooking fats and oilsPosted: 16 September 2011
In popular American culture lard is a dirty word. Lard is fat and certainly, the worst kind of fat, right? It’s not healthy like olive, canola, grapeseed, flaxseeed or peanut oils, right? I generally believe that you are all smart, educated people and surely you’re aware of the great trans-fats discoveries of recent years. What we’ve learned is that partially hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) are lethal. That the lipid theory has been resoundingly shot down and it’s clear that neither heart disease nor high cholesterol is caused by consumption of saturated fats as once believed. Certainly not the consumption of traditional fats from pastured animals, in any case. The idea of ‘vegetable shortening’ or ‘vegetable oil’ is often more comforting than the word lard. In reality, lard that’s made in your kitchen from the fat of pigs raised on pasture is infinitely more healthful than shelf-stable hydrogenated oils.
Shelf-stable oils, the kind that don’t ever turn rancid are processed and stripped of their Omega-3 fatty acids. Ideally humans need a 1:1 ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. But the Western diet is greatly skewed in favor of Omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are more stable, provide a longer shelf life, and are easily produced in mass from the industrial soybean. Think about shortening and vegetable oil, and all of the processed foods that contain them, including conventional beef. Omega-3s have become the latest fad in food with even fruit juice claiming to have Omega-3s. In truth, Omega-3s will eventually turn rancid, meaning they’re a poor choice for shelf-stable foods. There is a wealth of information out there about what fats are actually healthy, what we should eat and why…and none of it sticks with the conventional wisdom of the 20th century that taught us to trust margarine and vegetable oil and distrust lard and chicken fat. I won’t repeat it all of the information here, but I will highly recommend Nina Planck’s book Real Food which discusses not only cultural shifts in food but also the scientific make up of the foods we eat and how they effect us. To make it short and sweet, eat whole foods and don’t be afraid of fat. Use cold-pressed, unprocessed oils that come from the flesh of foods, like olives and coconuts. Use traditional fats like lard over industrial fats that have been manufactured and never eat anything that won’t go bad. You can also read the Omnivore’s Dilemma which is a wealth of intelligence about our industrial food. There is a lot to be learned by these two books alone, and even more if you dig further.
When vegetable shortening was introduced in 1911 Americans far and wide used lard and chicken fat as their primary fat sources for cooking. To this day, chefs and amateur cooks will admit, sometimes sheepishly that the secret to their flaky pie crusts and golden cookies is that the fat used was lard. It’s often told like a great secret that ‘I used lard…shhh!’ We are so ingrained to fear fat, to fear animal fat that the idea that someone would make a baked good with a quantity of fat from a pig seems repugnant.
The lard that you find on store shelves, in the baking aisle is no better then vegetable shortening. It’s been processed and hydrogenated to be shelf stable. It’s been processed to be perfectly white, so it looks like shortening. It has few to no Omega-3 fats and lots of Omega-6 fats. It doesn’t turn rancid. It is, after all, an industrial fat. And the pigs that it came from probably did not enjoy a spacious pen or munch on delicious scraps. You can easily find cold-pressed unfiltered and unprocessed olive oil, coconut oil and canola oil at health food stores or places like Whole Foods. They can be expensive though. Rendering your own lard from pastured pigs is incredibly affordable and much, much cheaper than imported oils that haven’t been industrialized.
I purchased a large package of pork fat or pork lard, unrendered from the same farm that we buy all of our eggs and meat. The nearly 2-pound package was less than $5.00 and provided a quart and two pints of rendered lard for cooking, baking, etc. You will need to store it in the fridge, unlike industrial lard, but it will keep for months and months. You could also freeze any portion that you’re not going to use immediately.
1-2 pounds of pork fat/pork lard
1 cup water
Combine the lard and water in a medium sized stock pot with a lid and heat over medium-high heat. The fat will turn to liquid and the cracklings, the little bits of pork fat will separate and float. Adjust the heat so that the pork fat is simmering constantly. Stir every 15 minutes or so to keep the cracklings from sticking to the bottom.
Continue to stir and let the pot simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours on medium high heat. Towards the end the cracklings will start to brown and will sink to the bottom. You may hear several loud pops as well, this is the last of the water leaving the mixture.
Once the cracklings have sunk to the bottom and are golden brown, you can turn off the heat and strain your lard.
Pour the lard through a fine-mesh strainer. You can also layer a strainer with cheesecloth. Strain into a large glass or metal bowl with a handle and a spout. A large Pyrex liquid measure makes it easy to pour and keeps the hot lard away from your fingers. Strain again as you pour the lard into glass pints or quart jars. Let the lard sit out on the counter until it has reached room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate.
Lard can be used in place of shortening or butter in most recipes. It’s a sturdy fat and can be used to pan fry many meats and veggies. Do not use lard for deep frying, it will spit and burn you.