Leaf lard – a Taboo?

With all of the talk out there about the Paleo diet, and being that it’s baking season, I thought I would discuss the mysterious topic of lard – you scrunched your nose and made a face of horror didn’t you? Maybe even envisioned yourself blowing up like a tick at the very thought of consuming it?  After all, it’s fat we’re talking about here. I will admit, lard used to make me cringe too but then a few months ago, my Dad asked me to check with my butcher to see if he carried leaf lard. I said to myself, ” crap, what the hell is ‘leaf’ lard?!” and quickly did a Google search. This is the visceral layer of fat on a pig that encases the kidney or abdomen, it is the highest grade and cleanest. Also the equivalent to the more familiar “suet” (which comes from a cow). There are many articles out there on the web but the short story is that chefs have prized this stuff for centuries and at one point in time, it was a staple in people’s homes. Interestingly enough, this is before the spike in heart disease, which started it’s incline about the time Crisco and margarine (gag) hit the market. A big thank you to food engineers… not. Luckily, it’s finally making a come back with the popularity of the Paleo diet.

This particular fat is what makes traditional southern fried chicken so flipping delicious, it’s what makes those fresh warm tortilla chips in that family run mexican restaurant you love so crispy, and if you’re lucky, it’s why you can’t seem to get your pastry dough to taste like your grandmothers.

You’ve probably seen unappetizing bricks of lard in your grocery store but beware, that product has been hydrogenated (cue your face of horror www.livestrong.com/article/272066-why-is-hydrogenated-oil-bad-for-you/?utm_source=livestrong_opar&utm_medium=1&LS-2659) and this is what gives lard (among other fats and processed oils) such a bad reputation. As it turns out, when slowly rendered at home, in its pure state, leaf lard is actually not so scary.  I’m not saying run out and make it part of your daily diet, but I am saying to give it a shot. Surprisingly, it has less saturated fat and is lower in cholesterol than butter, who would have thought?!  It also has ZERO trans fats, and it’s natural!  Beating out the highly processed fats and oils created to replace it – canola oil, vegetable oil, margarine, and Crisco.

My next thought after reading all of this was: FRIED CHICKEN!  Oh how I love fried chicken but it does not love me…until now (I’ll save that for another post). The next day, I contacted my butcher, he rocks and was able to get me a fresh package within the week. My mission at that point was to render it into a usable substance. Challenge accepted! I had no idea what to expect – here is what he handed me.

Bag o' lard
Bag o’ lard weighing in at 3.86 lbs at $1.99/ lb, I like ‘cheap’
lard unwrapped
Lard unwrapped

After a little more online research, I decided to go with a dry rendering vs wet. Honestly, I have no idea why, maybe it sounded like a safer bet. The process is really quite simple if you choose to take it on but make sure you have a very sharp knife, a heavy cast iron pot, and a few hours to dedicate to it. You should be able to order this from a good local butcher, get a few pounds to make it worth your while.

A ceramic sharpening steel is a great tool to have in your kitchen.  An extra huge knife helps in this case too.
A ceramic sharpening steel is a great tool to have in your kitchen. An extra huge knife helps in this case too.

Other things you’ll need: a washable cutting board, a mesh strainer (or cheese cloth and a colander), and sterilized mason jars.

Start by rolling out your leaf lard – don’t be scared, I know it’s more than likely strange for you to touch a giant piece of fat but you’ll get over it in a hurry when you envision all of the incredibly delicious things you can make with it when you’re done!

It was then that I realized I needed a bigger board... but of course I made do.
It was then that I realized I needed a bigger board…

Then chop into small chunks (hint – the smaller the chunks the quicker it will render down), when you’ve finally made it through, collect your chopped bits of fat into the pot.

A legit tub o' lard (ha!)
A true tub o’ lard (ha!)

Set the temperature on your stove top burner to low (for me it was between 2 & 3) – and watch as your little mountain of fat dissolves.

The onset of rendering
The onset of rendering, I used  wooden spoon to create a hole so you could see how the fat turns clear.

Give it a couple of hours – maybe have a glass of wine – catch up on your DVR – anything to pass the time. The key to making a clean, white, odorless yield is the heat so don’t get excited and adjust that knob. I was shocked when I realized there was no heavy odors filling up my house, no evidence at all actually.

Looking good!
Looking good!

Notice the little solid bits, these are called crackling’s and you’ll want to strain them out when all of the fat has rendered into a pool of liquid gold. If these start to look crispy, don’t panic but take your pot off the heat and use a slotted spoon or a spider spoon to fish them out to avoid that piggy scent and flavor.

Love any reason to break out the spider #suchanerd
Love any reason to break out the spider #suchanerd

If you avoided the above, good job! Take your pot off the heat and strain it through your handy mesh sieve. If you don’t have one, cheese cloth over a colander will work just as well.

Strained Right now it’s clean and gold in color. Pour this into your sterilized mason jars and let them cool to room temperature, watch as it changes to the color of fresh snow.

I won't say what this looks like.... but we're all thinking it.
I won’t say what this looks like…. but we’re all thinking it.

Once cooled – you can refrigerate or freeze your jars. A bonus tidbit is that because it is so low in polyunsaturated fat, it won’t go rancid for a couple of months if you choose to refrigerate vs freeze.

Visions of fried chicken dance in my head
Visions of fried chicken dance in my head

If you made it this far – feel free to do a little victory dance (I may or may not have done that part) and consider yourself a pretty cool individual. From here on out, you can saute, fry, or whip up some super badass pastries. If you’re a really kind person, you’ll give one or two away as gifts to friends or family who love to bake.