The Wongs have always been known for being a little less than traditional. Okay, so we’re just plain weird, but in a good way. We don’t have a TV and haven’t listened to the radio in ages. We seldom eat out, and, aside from Brant’s penchant for buffalo wings and an occasional hankering for Chipotle, we never eat fast food. We spend our free time playing intense strategy games, share one car, and believe that 9:30 p.m. is a perfectly normal time to sit down to dinner. As avid Costco shoppers, we have no fear of bulk buying even though there are only two of us to eat all those groceries. We don’t bat an eye at buying flour in 50 pound bags or, you know, buying an entire pig for our household consumption.
When we had our pig sent to the butcher, they asked us if we wanted just the meat or if we were also interested in “all the rest.” I was a little concerned about what “all the rest” might entail (would I get a sack of eye balls?), but at the price I was paying for this beast, I wasn’t about to let them throw anything away. And that’s how I found myself with innocently wrapped packages labeled “head” and “feet” and “fat.”
Surprisingly, I’m not a culinary adventurer. You’ll notice that most of my recipes are simply homemade versions of something you may have otherwise been tempted to buy in a box or a can, which means that there was absolutely no way that I was going to unwrap, let alone cook, that pig’s head. I struck a deal with the local produce man who was outraged at the idea that I might toss this precious cut of pork. Sold! If he wanted to roast it and pick out bits of flesh from the jowls, be my guest. I, however, would prefer fresh fruit any day and convinced him to give me a couple baskets of strawberries as payment.
We are excited about buying another pig this year and are on a quest to prepare space in both freezers (a pig is no small purchase!). In our inventory assessment, we came across two packages labeled “fat.” That’s when I remembered that my intentions were to render the fat into lard and use that in cooking. Lard is a pretty scary word that doesn’t have too many positive associations. (I think the only positive association I can conjure up is a vision of a grandma making a Sunday dinner complete with traditional southern biscuits or cornbread. Of course, the dream grandma is also plump and probably dies of coronary issues, but that’s just a downer, so we’ll stop the daydream there.) I did a bunch of research about rendering lard and learned that lard actually has a lower saturated fat content than butter. Does this make it a health food? Not at all. However, there was hope that this had to be a better alternative to the ultra-processed Crisco that I use in my famous pie crust.
Actually, upon more reading, I found out that pigs come with two kinds of fat. There’s the fatback (layers of subcutaneous fat) and the leaf lard (fat that is entwined around the kidneys and other vital organs). The fatback can be turned into lard that is best for frying. The leaf lard is supposedly the secret to the out-of-this-world pie crust. Having nothing to compare it to, at first I was confused as to whether my lard was fatback or not, but then I saw the long, coarse pig hair that was accidentally included in the package. A closer look revealed tons of hair follicles but I tried not to think too much about this. (I like to put some distance between the fact that what I’m eating was once an intelligent animal.) This was, no doubt about it, the fat back. Even though I had requested “all the rest,” my butcher did not give me the leaf lard. I guess they assumed that it was lumped in the same category as eyeballs and brains. Have no fear: I called the butcher today and they assured me that next time I can have the leaf lard along with “all the rest.” This makes me wonder what other special treats I’m missing out on. Hmmmm…
There are a couple well known methods for rendering the lard. Rendering lard, by the way, is a nice way of saying that we’re aiming to melt the fat, resulting in the same solids that you get if you let your bacon grease cool. My biggest concerns were smell and time. I had no desire for my house to reek of bacon grease for the next four days. I also didn’t want to stand by the stove or oven stirring something every ten minutes for hours on end. That’s how I ended up lumping strips of fat into the Crockpot with a little water, setting the heat to low, and walking away for 12-18 hours. It was easy, no fuss, and there was little likelihood of ruining it. In the end, I took my Crockpot outside because I was afraid even the slow cook method would produce a smell. I was probably being overly sensitive, but better safe than sorry.
I was asked how lard compares with butter and oils in terms of health choices. Here is a breakdown. Saturated fats are bad for you. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are good for you.
|TOTAL FAT||SATURATED FAT||MONOUNSATURATED||POLYUNSATURATED|
several pounds of pig fat (see notes above about the various kinds of fat), cut into strips or cubes – the smaller the pieces you have, the faster your fat will be rendered
1 cup water
Place your fat into the Crockpot, splash the water on top, and cook on low for 12-18 hours.
As it cooks, the fat will dissolve and look like calamari.
As it continues to cook, the solids will dissolve even more. You’ll know it’s done when there is lots of liquid oil and the amount of solids has greatly diminished.
You’ll still end up with some solids when you’re done, and some people fry these solids and eat them plain or in salads. They’re called cracklin‘s.
Pour the entire mass of solids and oils through a strainer into a large bowl.
Then, strain this mixture through cheesecloth into mason jars or other containers. I tried several methods of straining the mixture: paper towels (see below photo) just sucked up all the oil and sometimes broke, coffee filters were too fine and the oil took forever to filter. Cheesecloth is a perfect choice because it’s neither too fine nor too absorbent.
Pure lard without any of the solids is stable enough to remain un-refrigerated for quite some time. The more solids that get into your mixture, the more quickly your lard will go rancid. To be safe, minimize solids and refrigerate or freeze your lard.
Should you accidentally drop your lard-covered stirring spoon on the floor, have no fear. Harry will be happy to help you clean up.