Lard has been a household staple around the globe for millennia, but the advent of vegetable oils and shortenings pushed it out, claiming it was damaging and unhealthy. But, fear not you can make your own and bring back the tradition. While rendering lard can seem scary and intimidating, it’s really not as bad as it seems. It is literally chop, heat, and pour. Keep reading, and learn how to bring this pantry staple to your own kitchen.
Up until the late 20th century, lard was considered a pantry staple that could be found in most homes. Throughout the 19th and 20th century it was used as an alternative to butter. Household staples like pie crust, biscuits, cookies and more used lard in place shortening.
In the early 20th century, a process was discovered to bleach and deodorize (doesn’t that sound charming?) cotton seed oil to turn it into a cooking oil. The cotton seed oil was further processed through hydrogenation (a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this manufactured partially hydrogenated processing, a type of fat called trans fat is made.) to turn the liquid oil into a solid. The entire process turned the once wasted cotton seeds into a “usable” food for cooking.
By the late 20th century, after the invention of highly processed vegetable oils and shortenings, lard fell out of favor because it was perceived as unhealthy due to it’s high levels of cholesterol and saturated fats. But, what the marketers behind vegetable shortening didn’t want consumers to know is that lard contains zero trans fats and is made up of 60% monounsaturated fat, the kind that helps lower LDL cholesterol. And when made from pasteurised pigs, lard is an excellent source of vitamin D and monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat is what is found in olive oil and avocados and gives them their cardiovascular benefits.
Cultures and cuisine around the world have depended on lard. Not only does it make use of a waste product, but it offers flavor and nutrients to cooking and baking.
Because of it’s high smoke point, higher than butter or vegetable shortening, lard gives off less smoke at higher temperatures. This also means that it doesn’t oxidize when exposed to heat. (Oxidation can lead to cancer).
In pie crusts it makes them amazingly flakey and moist, without the damaging health concerns of vegetable shortening. In fried potatoes it keeps them from sticking and offers a subtle flavor that cannot be replicated with vegetable oils.
In Mexico it is a staple for making refried beans and tamales. In the south, no fried chicken was complete without being fried in lard. As settlers moved across the American continent, pigs went with and so did lard.
Hungarians, when cooking dishes containing paprika, almost exclusively use lard because the burning point allows paprika to release a higher percentage of it’s color and flavor.
Types of Fat
There are two different kinds of pork fat to be aware of when sourcing fat to render.
Lard made from leaf fat is the gold standard for baking. Made from the fat around the loins and kidneys, it renders down into a lovely smooth and creamy texture. Leaf lard is spreadable at room temperature, offering different cooking properties than back fat.
The most important feature of leaf lard is that it does not have a pork flavor, making it perfect for frying donuts or in pie crusts.
Back fat, or fat back is what most lard you would find in the store is made from as pigs have more back fat than leaf fat. It does retain it’s pork taste after rendering which is great for adding depths of flavor to potatoes or vegetables. However, it does nothing to improve the taste of your fruit pie!.
Rendering lard is incredibly simple.
Partially thaw your fat. Too frozen and it will be impossible to chop. Fully thawed and you will soon have a greasy mess on your hands.
Chop your fat into bits less than 1”. The smaller you can get it the better and faster it will render and with fewer impurities. If you have access to a meat grinder so much the better. This is thought to be the best and fastest way to render. Just be sure to cook it for a shorter period of time and check more frequently.
Once chopped (or ground) place in a baking dish. I use 2 13”x9” glass dishes for 4-5 pounds of fat.
Set the oven to 275F and cook for 45 minutes. While its rendering setup your sieve. Place a fine mesh strainer over a glass or metal bowl (plastic will melt) and line with paper towels. We tried using coffee filters but they clog too easily and stop filtering.
Once fat has cooked for 45 minutes, pour any fat that has rendered through the sieve. Place back in the oven for 15 minutes, then pour any melted fat off once again. Repeat the process until no more fat melts off for draining.
Once cool transfer for storage. I store mine in a large plastic container in the freezer.