Alert readers have requested advice on rendering lard. Like me, they have purchased some or all of a local pig for the freezer, and they’d like to make best use of the “parts”. (I can easily imagine that, of a pig acquired last fall, many of the easy-to-recognize items – your pork chops, say – may be exhausted, and the less familiar bits are beginning to rattle around in the freezer.) Well, bravo, let’s make lard!
When you’re finished you’ll have a jar or two of really great stuff for baking and frying, some luscious “cracklings”, and the “what’s the big deal?” kind of liberated feeling you get from learning how to do something forbidding-seeming (but secretly easy). The only downside is washing a few greasy dishes.
For equipment, you need a good-sized, heavy-bottomed pot, a piece of cheesecloth or just light cotton, a strainer, a storage jar or two, a knife and a cutting board.
First off, a word about fat. We mammals have two main types of fat, culinarily speaking. One sort lies just beneath the skin and is often interlaced with the muscles, etc.; bacon is a familiar example, as is the fat on a roast, steak, or chop. The other sort, purer and thus better for our present purpose, is stored up deep inside our bodies. It runs up and down along our spines and cushions our precious vitals, especially the kidneys. When the creature it comes from is porcine, it is called leaf lard, and when bovine, suet. If you buy a whole animal from a slaughterhouse, there it will remain inside the carcass for you to strip out, kidneys still embedded like mysterious jewels. Even in a grocery store, you may observe this species of fat (whacked in pieces and wrapped in plastic) in the suet aisle.
So, starting with a few pounds of leaf lard: chop it in smallish pieces and put it in the pot with a half-cup to a cup of water. Place over medium low heat, and turn on the exhaust fan or open a window (optional, but I find the process a bit smelly). Cook slowly, uncovered, and stirring occasionally. Gradually the fat will render away from the tissues and the water will simmer away. You want to keep it cooking without spattering violently; adjust the heat accordingly. All of a sudden, after a lot of small sputtering, the operation will become very quiet, and that is the sign that you are done. (Do not miss this moment. As you know, water boils at 212 degrees, and the temperature will hold steady precisely there as long as water is in the pot. As soon as it boils off, the temperature will start to rise, and keep rising in an undesirable fashion.)
Allow to cool a bit – no need to rush, you just want to finish before it congeals. Line your strainer with the cloth and pour the lard through into a heat-proof bowl, or directly into the storage jars, if cool enough. Cover and cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge for a month, or freezer much longer. Add the cracklings to beans, chowders, soups, biscuits, or cornbread for extra goodness.