Sounds pleasant right?
It actually was. I was intrigued and thrilled when I saw pork leaf fat for sale at the farmers market last week. Coincidentally, just a day or two before while reading through one of my new books, I saw a section on how to render lard. So of course, I bought some.
My first attempt went ok. It was easy enough, but I wasn't quite sure what I was doing and think I cooked it too high or too long or something. Apparently that's not a terrible thing, it just means that it will have a more smoky or meaty flavor and it's better in things like Mexican cooking and savory dishes instead of pastries. I got about 3 jelly jars out of that batch.
Yesterday I bought two more packages of pork fat (in total all three packages cost me $2.60) I cooked up one more package (and left one in the freezer) and this batch came out perfect. Snowy white and creamy.
So. How do you render lard?
Find some pork leaf fat. Preferably from a farmer you know and trust! Leaf lard is the highest quality fat, next is fat back. From what I've been told both are ok for rendering your own lard, but you'll get a better quality with the pork leaf fat. It's not like it's expensive either.
There are two methods, one is stove top and one is in the oven. I used the stove top method.
First, cut your fat into small pieces. I learned that it's easier to cut if it's still a little frozen. My first batch wasn't and I ended up with larger pieces which may have been why it didn't melt down as well and browned. The second time I left it slightly frozen which made it cut better, so I could cut it smaller and I did get a much better finish.
Put the fat into a saucepan and add 1/3-1/2 cup of water depending on how much fat you have. This stops the fat from sticking to the bottom and burning/browning.
Stir every 10 minutes or so to keep it from sticking. You're supposed to eventually hear a loud crackling/popping with a spatter of hot lard when it's just about done and from that point you can keep cooking it down to end up with a smoky lard, or strain it then for a white lard. The first time I tried it I never got that noise. I pulled it when it started smoking (yeah). I strained it through a cheesecloth in a strainer into a bowl, then poured it into jars from there.
I forgot to take a picture of the first batch of lard after it solidified. This is what it looks like at first. This was the first batch and you can see how it's sort of an amber color.
The second batch was a much lighter color.
It looks even darker than it was too. It was a very, very light yellow. I guess when you pull it early enough, it's clear like water.
The second time there was a definite sputter/crackling and spatter of grease. I happened to be stirring it and got hit. Yum, melted fat. I pulled it right after and strained and jarred it. I got about 3 and half jars this time. From what I understand they'll keep in the fridge 2 months and in the freezer for at least a year (some things I've read say they stay indefinitely)
There was definitely a difference in the coloring of the lard. So one is labeled for savories and the other is labeled for pastries.
second batch, finished lard.
You're also supposed to get cracklings, which is I guess the crisped pieces of skin/fat? I've heard they are delicious. I'll probably never know, I don't know if I'm that adventurous! Some information I read says that those will "sink" when the lard is ready. I have no idea what that means.
I may try the oven method next time, I think you're supposed to get more lard out of the fat that way. I'll keep you updated! I'll also be keeping you updated on the recipes I try out with it.
I'm really probably way too excited about pig fat!
Edited to add: I was reading through blogs I follow this morning, and great minds and all - Suzanne McMinn over at Chickens in the Road posted yesterday about rendering lard! Check out her method (crock pot) and her very detailed, very good instructions!