The following 101 on rendering lard comes from HOMEGROWN member Mary Elizabeth, a Georgia gal who describes herself as a “registered nurse by day; aspiring homesteader by evening, night, and weekend.” Thanks, ME, and please keep the good ideas flowing!
What is leaf lard, you ask? Leaf lard is the visceral fat surrounding a pig’s kidneys. (That's it over there, in the photo to the left. Pretty, huh?) A soft fat, it’s considered more delicate than some fats and, once rendered, lends itself to baking and pastries. Fatback? Well, that’s the fat on the back of a pig, just above the back-strap muscles. Fatback is a firmer fat but ultimately will give you a similar finished product to the leaf lard. I haven't rendered fatback before, but from my research, it seems people use leaf lard and fatback interchangeably. (If you’re a fatback expert, don’t be shy: Help fill us in by posting in the comments box below.)
I do think fatback is more readily available, especially if you live in the South. Leaf lard, on the other hand, is primarily available by request; it usually gets discarded along with the intestines. That said, my sister and I were able to get 10 pounds of leaf lard for free when we ordered a quarter pig to split. In other words, it’s well worth asking your local meat people if you can have their leftover leaf lard or if you can purchase it for a small fee. Offer to render a few jars of lard for them and see if that doesn’t convince them! Either way, once you’ve got your fat, you can render it into lard for use in all kinds of cooking projects. Details below.
» about 5 lb leaf lard or fatback
» large heavy-bottomed pot
» spoon or spatula for stirring
» storage containers (e.g., wide-mouth pint jars)
WHAT TO DO
Take your leaf lard or fatback and chop it into small chunks, approximately 1 inch in size. There's no need to get out the measuring tape, but you do want to make sure the lard is very cold—as in, put it in the freezer for a few minutes beforehand. Cold fat makes cutting much easier. And be sure to use a very sharp knife. I've read that you can use the food processor for this step, which would make things go more quickly. Lucky me, the wonderful people I buy my lard from have their processor cube it. I just love them.
Once the lard is in small pieces, place it in your pot and add about an inch of water. Don't worry: The water will evaporate during the cooking process. It's just there to prevent sticking. Heat on low and stir occasionally. The objective is to cook on low over a long period of time—a.k.a. “low and slow”—to render the most fat and prevent burning. When the fat is rendered over low heat, you avoid the lard taking on a "piggy" smell and taste. Warning: your house will have a piggy smell while the lard is rendering down, so don't plan a dinner party for later that evening.
As the lard renders from the connective tissue, it will separate into liquids and solids, a.k.a. “cracklins.” The photo above right depicts the process about halfway through. When the lard is done rendering, the cracklins will sink to the bottom of the pot. This usually takes three to four hours. At this point, you can decide how patient you are and whether you want to render every last drop of fat from the cracklins.
If you’ve had enough fun, go ahead and strain the contents through a fine-mesh strainer. I mostly use my lard for baking, so I like to strain it a second time through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, removing the smaller particles, but if you’re using the lard for savory purposes, you can eliminate that step.
Ladle your lard into storage containers—I prefer wide-mouth pint jars—and let cool. The lard stores in the fridge for about a month and in the freezer for about six months.
HOW TO USE YOUR LARD: THE BEST PIECRUST YOU’LL EVER EAT
Once your lard is ready to go, you can use it in cornbread (my personal favorite) and as a one-to-one substitute in any recipe that calls for vegetable shortening (pastry, biscuits, et cetera). Rendered lard remains stable at very high temperatures, so it’s also safe to sauté. And for a great and easy piecrust recipe, I recommend the following, adapted from The Pioneer Woman.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Makes two to three single piecrusts, doubles easily, and freezes well.
» 3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
» 3 cups all-purpose flour
» 1 tsp salt
» 1 egg, beaten
» 1 Tbsp white vinegar
» 5 to 6 Tbsp cold water
WHAT TO DO
Mix together flour and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and lard until mixture resembles small crumbs. Add egg and vinegar. Continue mixing with pastry blender. Add water 1 Tbsp at a time until well mixed. Dough will be wetter than average piecrust. Divide dough into 2 to 3 portions and flatten into discs approximately ½-inch thick. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and place in storage bags in freezer. Chill 15 to 20 minutes if using immediately or keep in freezer until needed. Stores well for 3 to 6 months. Thaw on counter for 15 minutes before use. Enjoy!
Got another use for rendered lard? Or a question for Mary Elizabeth? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also be interested in 101s on butter making and canning chicken stock. For more ways to use your lard, you might consider joining the Recipe Sharing group. And you can always find more things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft and render in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
ALL PHOTOS: MARY ELIZABETH
It's a deal!
Arghh! I've made several in the last year but didn't take photos. But there is a lot of pie in my immediate future, with the holidays coming up. Shall we both make crusts sometime soon and take photos? I'll be curious to hear more about your experiments with flour, too—and very curious to hear about your corn flour project next year!