Want to make people cringe? Say “lard.”
Actually, lard is less awful than people realize. Compared to butter, lard has less saturated fat (the bad kind) and more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (the good kind).
Lard is just the thing for some baked goods. In my experience, pie crust made with butter and lard tastes more buttery than pie crust made with butter and no lard. That’s actually what I’m planning to use lard for, although I’m willing to try it in other applications.
Lard comes from pigs. The lard that comes in blocks in the supermarket is fat from all over the pig, and some of the fat is high quality and some is not. That lard is usually bleached and often hydrogenated (which is okay; it’s partial hydrogenation that produces trans fats, which clog your arteries). Leaf lard is high-quality fat from high on the hog. It’s sliced off in a sheet, or leaf. Some butchers have it, but I have no idea where to find a proper butcher except at Savenor’s. So you can imagine my delight when I saw that one of the vendors at the Central Square farmers market carries leaf lard.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d be getting; this was more than 3 lb, which is plenty.
It was two sheets that were rolled up. My original idea was to unroll one, cut it in half, render that, and put the rest in the freezer.
As you can see, someone with excellent knife skills sliced off this fat in one large sheet. You have to cut that up and heat it to melt the fat out of the connective tissue. While I was out on the Internet looking up the rules for storage (how long could I store it in the freezer, and is it better to store it before or after rendering), I found that there are at least three different ways to render the lard: in a saucepan on the stove, in a roasting pan in the oven, and in a slow cooker. I definitely had too much lard to render at one time in a saucepan, but I had enough to make a little experiment by comparing the three methods. So I chopped up all the lard:
I had 3 lb 12 oz of chopped lard, which was conveniently divisible into 1 lb 4 oz for each method.
That was a nice amount for the saucepan; I wouldn’t want to try much more than 1½ lb in a saucepan.
I could’ve fit 2 lb easily in the roasting pan and possibly the entire batch.
I could probably render the whole amount in the slow cooker.
It took about an hour in the saucepan and in the oven.
I kept the saucepan over a medium flame and set the oven to 350℉. For the slow cooker, the recommendation was to set it on high at the beginning and turn it to low later. I had it on high for 2 hours and then turned it down to low. After a total of 4 hours, it looked done.
I lined a strainer with cheesecloth. The cheesecloth is folded into several layers in the package, and I left it folded and used two pieces crossed at 90 degrees. Then I set that in a bowl.
Then I carefully strained the lard.
I lined a medium loaf pan (8″ x 4″ x 2″) with parchment paper and poured the strained lard into that, then I put the pan in the freezer to cool.
The batch for the oven went in later because I didn’t remember to preheat the oven until I started the batch in the saucepan. When the oven batch was done, I just poured the strained lard on top of the cooled lard in the loaf pan. Later, when I used some of it in dough for pie crust, it was pretty obvious that the oven batch had cooked differently:
The photo shows the fat added to the flour and salt for the pie crust. You can see that the chunk in the middle is two colors. The darker area on the left is the lard from the oven, which I poured on top of the lard from the saucepan. The saucepan lard is the lighter color on the right of that chunk. (You can also see chunks of butter and shortening.) This makes me think that the oven method might not be the optimal one for rendering lard. The saucepan lard looks better and might taste better; I’ll find that out later. The roasting pan holds more lard than the saucepan, but I think if I want to do a batch this big again, I’ll either break it up and do it all in the saucepan in batches, or I’ll dump it all in the slow cooker.
The slow cooker worked fine, and the main advantage is I didn’t feel I had to keep an eye on it all the time. I stirred the lard in the saucepan about every 10 minutes. I also didn’t hesitate to take the dogs for a walk while the slow cooker was on, but there’s no way I’d leave the house with a pan on the stove or in the oven. However, the total time was significantly different: 1 hour for the stove and 4 hours for the slow cooker, so if time is a factor, the stovetop has the obvious advantage; even doing the lard in two batches I’d have finished in half the time it took to use the slow cooker.