Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homemade Lard

Animal fats such as pork lard, beef/bison tallow and poultry fat are excellent forms of cooking oil.  They are great for baking and sauteing.  Generally, you can substitute them for butter in baking recipes.  Lard was once a common staple in most American homes. These days it is rare to find someone with a jar of lard in their pantry.  Well, take a look in my pantry.  I have two jars in there (in the fridge, actually).  
I don't use just any lard.  It is important, not only where your lard comes from, but how it was processed.  The next time you're in the grocery store, take a look at the lard on the shelf.  It's most likely hydrogenated and comes from factory farmed pigs.  I am not interested in cooking with oils like that.  So, I make my own lard.  I would also make tallow and poultry "lard" if I had a good source of fat from those animals but I do not.  So, we're sticking with lard for now.
The first step is sourcing your pig fat.  We get our pig fat from a local farm that raises organic, pastured pigs.  Their pigs are a Yorkshire cross breed that are pastured and have lots of room to roam.  They eat lots of farm fresh vegetables and fruit.   
It is important that your pig fat is pastured, as well as organic.  Organic pigs can still be fed a diet corn and soy.  That fat is not Omega 3 rich.  It is rich in Omega 6.  That's not what you're looking for in a cooking oil.  Look for pastured pork from a local farm. Pigs are omnivorous, like us. They need to be able to roam around and eat grubs, fruit, tubers, etc... The factory farmed pigs don't get this.
Once you have a good source of pig fat, you're ready to make lard.
Cut your pig fat into small pieces.  

Load the pieces into your slow cooker.  Turn it on low and let the slow cooker do its thing for a few hours.  It should take about 5 hours, give or take, to render your lard. It is a good idea to keep an eye on it after a few hours.  If you let it go too long it can burn, although it does take a while.  I have done that once before.  
Once there is mostly liquid in your pot and your fat pieces are starting to crisp up, it is time to jar your lard. You will need to strain the liquid.  
I store mine in mason jars but any jar will do.  
Pour the liquid through the strainer and close your jar.    

Let it cool for several hours until it is at room temperature.  The liquid will turn white and become solid at this point.
Store it in the refrigerator and you're all done.

What's left in the slow cooker are the crispy pieces of fat.  These can be stored and used as a sort of "pork crackling."  They can be salted and used as "bacon bits" for salads or a number of other things.  This is where you need to get creative.

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