Perfecting pie crust, part 1

Rendering lard was not part of my plan. Really, I just wanted to make pie crust. Yet there it sat—a pale pink loaf of leaf lard on my cutting board, daring me to throw it out and admit defeat. But oh, as just about anyone who knows me will attest, I take things like this as challenges to be overcome. I would not be bested by lard and I would have pie crust!

Rendered and cooled leaf lard

My original plan was to finally get my pie crust right, to try a few combinations of fats and figure out the one that worked best. A lot of what I’d been reading talked about using leaf lard which, as I learned, is different from the stuff in the boxes you find on the shelf at just about any Mexican market; that type of lard is usually hydrogenated to make it shelf-stable, which is, in part, what makes it so unhealthy. Whether leaf lard is really “healthy” or not, I don’t know, but I wanted to give it a try.

IMG_0007 (23)

How the heck was I supposed to use this in pie crust?

I asked at a few butcher shops around the city, but no one seemed to carry it, at least not rendered and ready for pie-making. I finally thought I had success when I called one shop that said they carried it, frozen, and I just had to ask for it. I should have known something was off when they brought out a pound wrapped in butcher paper. I thought that was a little odd—wouldn’t it melt all over?—but didn’t realize why until I got home, unwrapped it, and found myself staring at several whole pieces of unrendered lard. Well shoot…

Leaf lardLeaf lardLeaf lard

With some of the blogs I read, I knew it was possible to remedy the situation, although like I said, it was not part of the plan. Put a pot over a low flame for a few hours should melt the fat enough that I could pour it into a jar—and it was actually just that easy.

The basics of the process are these: cut the lard into small-ish pieces, heat in a crock pot or over very low heat, and stir occasionally as it melts. Eventually you’ll just be left with a pot of liquid and a small amount of un-meltable bits (which, after you strain them out and heat them over higher heat until crispy and add a little salt, eventually become cracklins’).

Leaf lard, rending

What I learned for next time (maybe…) is to strain the liquid through cheesecloth into a jar as it melts instead of waiting to strain it after all the fat has melted; supposedly this makes for a purer end product with less of a discernible taste. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. If you’re curious, 1 1/3 pounds of unrendered lard cooked down to about 2 1/4 cups—not a bad rate of exchange.

Rendered leaf lardRendered leaf lard

I will also say a small apartment may not be the best space to render a pound of fat, and it certainly won’t be a project I’ll take on unless I can open my windows. The lard did have a bit of a…smell to it as it melted. Not bad, necessarily, just distinctive.

Rendered and cooled leaf lard

And that’s how I learned two very important lessons: when I’m looking for a product I’m not familiar with, it’s very important to ask the right questions, and in the event that I don’t ask the right questions, I’ll at least get a pretty good story out of it. Oh, and I learned how to render my own lard. So there’s that.

Up next, using lard in the great pie experiment of ’12.

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20 thoughts on “Perfecting pie crust, part 1

  1. IF YOUR LOOKING FOR GREAT EASY PIE CRUST, YOUR GRANDMOTHER HAS A GREAT RECIPE, YOUR UNCLE JIM AND I MAKE HER APPLE PIE RECIPE AND THEY ALWAYS TURN OUT GOOOOOOD.

    • That’s the recipe I have and I can never get it to turn out as good as when Grandma or my mom make it! I just posted the version I ended up making with the lard, it turned out really well, I’m going to make an apple pie with it this weekend.

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  3. Sounds like the leaf lard you used is something called Suet in the uk. It’s the fat around the kidneys and when it’s raw it’s just grated or chopped and used in steamed puddings and dumplings and pies. It’s generally nowadays brought processed into small pellets.
    Here’s a link I found which tells you all about it.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/mar/03/features.weekend2

    I made lard last year and I agree it’s certainly a very fragrant job! And it’s looks really, really disgusting when it’s all starting to melt down. But when it’s cooled in the jars and lovely and pure white, it really good to have something useful from scraps you would have thrown away.

    • Oops, I missed the rest of your comment where you said you have made it :-)

      That’s interesting about how it’s used, I guess not much differently than chunks of butter, it’s all just fat after all. And yes, agreed with the entire second half of your comment–kinda smelly, looks unappealing, but the end result is still pretty cool!

    • Oh, last thing–I checked our your link and apparently the difference between suet and leaf lard is that leaf lard is pork fat, not beef, though it is from the same area of the animal, go figure.

    • Lard is generic fat from pork, tallow is generic fat from beef or lamb/mutton. Leaf Lard from pork and Suet from beef or lamb are from all specific fats from around the kidneys and adrenals. At least that’s what my 2 years of off and on research on traditional foods tells me. Leaf lard and suet are the preferred pastry fats because fat from that location, on pork, beef or lamb (I suspect from all mammals, including bear, etc.) is dryer and more “waxy” with a higher melting point. Tallow is not usually used in cooking because of the stronger flavor, it is used in other traditional arts like candle making. Once again, that’s what my research told me. My personal experience is that it seems to be true.

  4. The lard we made was from all the left over fat from half a pig we got. Minced all the fat and then cooked it slowly for ages just like you did.
    Never used fresh suet. As you found out its a real pain to get hold but I’ll be using a packet of Atora to make a savoury steamed steak and kidney pudding this week. Never made one before, so looking forward to it.
    Lard is great in pastry. About 50/50 with butter is how I’ve used it. It’s a shame it went out of fashion for so long. In fact there is a British cake, local to the south of England, called lardy cake… Lol.

    I don’t know how long the lard you made will keep, if it’s not used up quickly making yummy pasty, but the stuff I made has kept for ages. Well over a year in the fridge.

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