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!
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.
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…
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’).
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.
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.
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.