No, I don’t live on some isolated homestead. Yes, I could easily go to the store and buy some lard. No, I don’t want to because making your own is easy enough to do, and why not save money and reduce waste in the process?
I’m often finding myself trimming chunks of fat from meat before I cook it. Not because I’m fat phobic, but more because there is “too much of a good thing” when it comes to the final flavor and texture in the meal. However, I’m not a fan of throwing things out if I can find a way to make them useful. I’m also not a fan of paying for someone to do something for me that I could easily do myself with the very materials I just threw away. I’m even far, far less of a fan of food that has been chemically altered to the point of no longer resembling what it once was, which is what is done to create fats like margarine and vegetable shortening.
The process of “rendering” releases fat from the cellular tissues of the animal it came from. There are differences in how firm that fat will be depending on the source. Chicken will give a fat that will stay semi-liquid at room temperature, while both beef and pork will result in a much firmer material, beef being the firmest. This is a result of the balance of saturated and unsaturated fats naturally present. To substitute fats in recipes, match the textures (chicken for liquid oils; beef and pork for butter, shortening, or store-bought lard). I often combine mine, but the rendering process is the same for all types.
There are all sorts of ways you could use your final product. Sautéed vegetables, fried eggs and potatoes, pastry dough, etc. are all excellent examples of dishes that can make use of this easy pantry staple. Pastry dough really benefits from having a balance of butter and firm rendered fat as the butter gives flavor and flakiness, and the rendered fat helps the dough retain it’s shape and structure. In some cases, the dough is actually better if it’s not made with butter if you need something that can hold itself together.
Some quick notes before you begin:
You can get rendered fat either from meat that has been boiled or from fat trimmed off of raw cuts. You do not want there to be any seasoning as this will taint the flavor of your fat. Fat that you skim off of flavored broths or drippings from roasts can still be saved and used if the seasoning is something you would want. This is perfect for making gravy or seasoned dough, so no need to toss it.
Technically you could “clean” flavored fat by boiling it with several successions of clean water. The process consumes an exorbitant amount of time, water, and energy to produce fat that will still have some degree of flavor, as well as altered texture, so it’s really not worth it. Trust me. I already tried (and failed) so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
There are two sources of fat that you can make use of. One comes from fat trimmed off of raw cuts of meat, and the other comes from skimming fat off of broth made from unseasoned meat. The instructions for both processes are below.
Technically, lard and tallow are made from fats collected from specific areas of the animals organs and body. However, the process for rendering is the same and there is no real difference in the end product.
Once the fat has been rendered out of the tissues, you will be left with “cracklings”, the crunchy cooked bits of tissues that fat came from. These are really good so don’t toss them! I like to coat them with a little seasoning and use them in all sorts of ways (including just munching on them!). There’s more information in the instructions below.
Fun fact for you: the different names for rendered fat are dependent on the animal it came from. Tallow is fat from beef and lamb/mutton, lard is rendered pork fat, and schmaltz is rendered fat from chicken or other fowl.
Rendered Fat (Tallow, Lard, and Schmaltz) Recipe
There are two sources of fat that can be used for rendering, one from raw cuts of meat, and the other from broth.
Fat from broth:
Fat that has been skimmed off of an unseasoned broth is already rendered. Some bony cuts of meat are sold specifically for making broth rather than for eating as-is. If you used them and did not add any seasoning, congratulations! You now have broth AND rendered fat! Just allow the broth to cool and skim the solidified fat off the surface. You will need to heat the fat again to cook off any water from the broth that got stuck to the fat. Just put it into a pan on medium heat until you stop seeing steam coming out.
Any blobs of fat still on meat that has been boiled can also be further rendered following the same procedure as raw fat. You will also need to filter your fat in the process described below.
Any fat you trimmed from an unseasoned cut of meat, or from meat boiled for broth, will need to be cooked down to render out the fat from the tissues. Cutting the solid fat into small pieces will yield a higher amount of rendered fat. This is easiest to do if the fat is partially frozen. I seldom have a lot of fat trimmings all at once, so I keep a container in the freezer to store them until I have enough fat to bother rendering.
Put enough water into a deep stock pot to cover the bottom about 1/4 inch deep. There is no need for a precise amount as the water will eventually cook off. The water is there to help get the rendering process started without scorching the fat tissues. Put the pot on the stove and turn the heat to high. Once the water starts to boil, lower the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook the fat, stirring occasionally, until the fat tissues are brown and completely crispy. If they are still squishy, there is still fat that can be released and it will need to cook out more.
Remove the pot from the heat. Scoop out the solids with a slotted spoon (these are the “cracklings”) and place them on a dish covered with a paper towel to drain. These crunchy morsels are pretty darned tasty with a little seasoning! I put them into a covered container with a sprinkling of a steak seasoning kind of mixture and shake it to coat the cracklings (it’s downright addictive!). You can use them in the same way as you would bacon bits, croutons, those little fried onions from the can, etc. They will add flavor and crunch to a whole host of dishes, so don’t toss them! Keep them in an air tight container and use them before too long or they run the risk of becoming rancid.
Filtering your liquid gold:
If your rendered fat has thickened or solidified, gently heat it until it is completely melted again. Line a funnel with a coffee filter and set the funnel over a container. Pour the fat into the filter and allow it to drain into the container.
Storing your bounty:
I like to pour my rendered fats into small, 1/2 cup sized containers, and then keep them in the freezer. This way I have a set amount for easy measuring and freezing keeps them preserved for a very long time. The containers are labeled so I know what kind of texture the fat will have. If I run out of small containers, I will store the leftovers in larger batches, then gently heat to liquify and put into smaller containers once they are available again. As long as you don’t heat the fat too long or too high, it is okay to heat and rechill. Technically, rendered fat is shelf stable but it will remain in better condition if kept in cooler temperatures.