Rendering leaf lard
I may be a butcher shop groupie.
One of the butchers at a local restaurant made the mistake of mentioning that they get whole hogs delivered on Wednesday afternoon and then cut them up right there behind the counter. So I show up the next week and explain to the hostess that I neither want a table nor need something from the butcher case, I’m just there to hang out and watch the hogs.
Restaurant work has accustomed me to seeing much bigger cuts of meat than I’ll probably ever use at home, but the sheer size of the hogs still threw me–they weigh in at over 200 pounds each. As the butcher started to break down the two huge animals, I peppered him with questions. Mostly just “what’s that?” over and over, actually. He told me about using the hooves for stock and showed me the different cuts of meat emerging under his knife.
As he stripped fat from the inside of the body cavity, I spoke up again.
“Leaf lard,” he responded, adding that they just throw it away because they don’t have any use for it. When I suggested that he could give it to me for the baking of delicious pies and such, he shrugged assent and nonchalantly threw several thick slabs of fat into a plastic bag. He handed me the basketball-sized package and turned back to the hog, leaving me with several pounds of a very unfamiliar fat.
I brought the admittedly pretty gross-looking lard home to skeptical roommates who apparently didn’t share my visions of pies and biscuits and maybe cake and endless experimentation. But before we can get to any of that, it has to be rendered. This basically transforms the lard from insulation for piggy into clean, white, pure fat that flakes up our baked goods. Let’s get to it!
Rendering leaf lard
Whether you accidentally find yourself with a bunch of fresh lard on hand or if you actually seek it out (ask your butcher! Join the party!), it’s pretty simple to render it for kitchen use. I am by no means an expert, but this is the process that worked for me based on a few internet guides. I used a crock pot for maximum hands-off-ness; a big pot or Dutch oven over low heat should work just fine.
You will need:
- Unrendered leaf lard, as much as will fit in your pot
- Sharp knife and cutting board
- Crock pot or large pot
- Mesh strainer
Start by chopping the lard into small pieces, about one-inch cubes. This will help it heat more evenly and will speed up the process.
Put all of the lard into your pot, cover, and heat it gently–the low setting on a crock pot or low heat on a stove. Add about 1/4 cup of water to the pot to prevent scorching, and stir every 15 minutes or so. When it starts to liquefy, remove the lid to increase evaporation.
Continue to heat it until all of the lard melts. This will take several hours, with the actual time depending on the heat of your crock pot or stove (for me, it was about 6 hours). You will see white bits floating in the melted fat, which are pieces of connective tissue and muscle that held the fat together inside the pig. When these stop getting smaller, you will know that all of the lard has rendered.
Set up the strainer over a large bowl and line it with several layers of cheesecloth. Ladle the melted lard into the strainer to separate the fat from the tissue. I found it helped to periodically remove the bits of tissue from my strainer into a separate bowl for later use (mine are still in the freezer, but I’ve heard you can bake them into crispy, fatty cracklings or use them in ramen broth). When the lard has cooled slightly, pour it into jars and keep them in the fridge or freezer.
You now have rendered lard! Use it for super yummy pie crusts, flaky biscuits, and much more. I’ve got lard science and recipes coming up, of course, including the peach-blueberry hand pies at the top of this post! If you’re impatient, you can also check out this collection of lard recipes from Serious Eats.