Lardy-da: The Lard Experiments, Part 1

I have known for a while that some fats are good and some are kind of bad. We use olive oil and coconut oil, but we have also been using a highly processed oil, usually rice bran oil, for more general frying. I’ve been doing so well with low sugar and cutting down on processed foods, but we hadn’t yet done anything about this oil thing. Last week I decided the highly processed oil needed to be ousted from our household in favour of some animal fats. Why? Here are a few words to sum up my understanding of highly processed oils: industrial, rancid, deodorised, genetically modified, arsenic, who really knows what’s in that oil? If you think about some of the things that oil is extracted from and how much effort and process must go into getting a decent amount of oil out of them, then you do start to wonder what the point is and what on earth they do to the original product. I’m still learning, and if you want to learn more about oils there is plenty of information online, although some sources are better than others. Here’s a good article about lard from Weed ’em & Reap, one of my favourite blogs/YouTube channels right now. It would be awesome if I could use butter, but my body doesn’t cope with dairy. I did, however, buy some butter that can be used by The Husband or for others. And then I got on the lard train. Toot toot!

We like pigs.

We had lard in the fridge once. We used it to make cornish pasties, then we kept forgetting it was there. Last week, The Husband got so on board with this animal fat thing when I mentioned it, so, needing some lard, like NOW, we tried to find it in the supermarket. Nope. We had a couple of workers searching for us and brought forth one, “What’s lard?” from another. Obviously, not enough people are on the lard train yet. Come aboard, people! I knew we could make lard somehow, we just wanted it in a hurry so we could use it. I did some googling to find out how to make lard, or rather, how to render yard. It is much better to make… render… your own lard because store-bought lard has extra things put in it to make it shelf stable, etc. From what I have learnt, there are two different types of pork fat that you can render lard from. See, I can use the proper words… The first is back fat, or the thick layer of fat that you get from the back, legs, shoulders and most other parts of the pig. This makes a slightly meaty-tasting lard for general cooking. The second type of fat you can use is leaf fat, or the soft fat from around the kidneys and loins. This makes a soft, not-so-meaty-tasting lard that can be used for making things like pastry.

The next day I found myself in a butcher shop. I came out with three items: a container of beef dripping, a packet of pork shoulder roast and a packet of pork skin, or fat. The beef dripping was to have something to use until I could render some lard and I was also curious to find out about the taste of beef dripping. Apparently, dripping usually refers to the fat that has dripped off beef while roasting, tallow usually refers to rendered beef fat and lard usually refers to rendered pork fat. There was only one packet of pork fat in the shop and because it’s something that might sometimes be hard to find, I got a shoulder roast with a big piece of fat on it to see how that could work. The 450g container of beef dripping cost $3.99.

The first thing we used the beef dripping for was cooking fried rice. Boy, was it good! I was sad that we didn’t have any leftovers for the next day. It gives the food a beefy flavour, which is not a bad thing, and it somehow just made me feel really good eating it, like how I feel after eating salmon.

Next, it was time for lard rendering experiment #1. I took the packet of pork fat and cut off the main bits of meat. I cut the meat into pieces and put it into the freezer to be used another day. From a net weight of 825g I got 130g of pork meat and 675g of pork fat. I chopped up the fat into small pieces, for which a sharp knife is essential, then put the fat into the slow cooker with 1/4 cup of water. It is very straightforward but I can’t pretend I’m not a slow chopper. Just as well The Husband wasn’t watching. I decided to try the slow cooker method instead of the stovetop or oven method. Some people don’t recommend using a slow cooker because the low heat setting isn’t low enough and the lard gets too much of a ‘cooked’ flavour, but with a cooking time of around two hours, as opposed to 8-12 hours on the stove, I had to give it a crack. Apparently, my slow cooker is a good lard renderer because on low it took a LOT longer than 2 hours. Just as well I didn’t start it any later than 2pm… I suppose chopping the pieces smaller might make it faster.

There’s something about rendering pork lard that makes me hungry. It’s the smell! I’m a sucker for crackling and any pork fat, really. I’m not always a big fan of beef fat but there’s just something about pork. We really are pork fans here. Don’t get me started on The Husband and his bacon. I love bacon too, but if we need just a little bit more of something to add to our dinner line-up, while I’m thinking of how to get in more veges, The Husband is like, “Bacon!” and has already started cooking some. We really need to raise some pigs one day… Anyway, as the lard-rendering process went on, the smell got better and better. As the fat melts, the contents in the slow cooker become either the liquid, melted fat or the harder, crispy bits that start to settle on the bottom. Occasional stirring becomes more frequent towards the end. The liquid fat is what I spooned off into a muslin-lined colander over a bowl. I started doing this before the process was complete and tipped the strained fat into a jar, as it is better to get some of the fat out before a potential over-cooking disaster, which, let’s face it, was highly likely when combining me with the night hours.

In the end, I slow-cookered the fat for almost 9 hours. I could have let it go a bit longer, as there was still a little more fat that hadn’t melted or gone crispy, but sometimes you just need to go to bed, ya know? The end product was a 370g jar of pork lard and a decent wad of crispy bits. The crispy bits were fried in a pan to make them more crispy. Then we can use them in a stir-fry or on a salad or just eat them for a snack. Ok, so I may have eaten most of the crispies for a snack, but The Husband did add some to a stir-fry…

Aside from avoiding the nasties of highly processed oils, lard has benefits like a good level of monounsaturated fat, high vitamin D and a high smoke point (higher than butter), making it good for hot frying. And really, it just makes stuff taste good! We’re going to need a LOT more of this stuff. I think we need a bigger train.

Ok, to sum up lard rendering experiment #1, here are the numbers.

  • Cost of 825g net pork fat: $1.65
  • Amount of pork fat: 675g
  • Lard produced: 370g
  • Pork meat side benefit: 130g
  • Crispies produced: oops we ate them

So, this rendered lard cost 45c per 100g or $4.50 per 1kg. Interesting! Unfortunately, it wasn’t free farmed pork, so that’s a whole other thing to think about. But I sure ain’t jumping off this lard train! Lard rendering experiment #2 is going to involve using fat cut from the pork roast and will hopefully be coming to your screens some time next week.

Cooking my oyster mushrooms with a lump of lard.

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