Render Lard! You Can Do It
Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we’re sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: Start cooking with lard — and rendering your own. Jenny McGruther, author of The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle, gives us the how and why.
With butter consumption at a 40-year high, it seems that home cooks are ready to embrace animal fats once more — and yet lard remains almost universally reviled. I can promise you, though, that it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation: Lard is an extraordinary fat, rich in the same monounsaturated fats as olive oil and avocados, with a mild flavor and beautiful properties for sautéing, frying, and preparing pie crusts and flaky biscuits.
At its simplest, lard is rendered pork fat. Leaf lard, specifically, is a fine, soft, white fat rendered from the fat in the kidney region of pigs and hogs. It is mild in flavor, soft in texture, and particularly well-suited to pastry making.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying lard, and tips on making your own:
Why Pasture-Raised Makes a Difference
Pigs, like people, produce vitamin D in their skin and in their fat when they spend time under the sun. So when a farmer raises his or her pigs outside on fresh pasture, not only do the animals enjoy a better existence than their confined counterparts, but their meat and fat also offer richer flavor and more nutrients.c
Raw Fat vs. Rendered Lard
Lard that hasn’t been rendered is simply raw fat. When you cook with it, instead of melting completely like butter or rendered lard, it will melt a bit and yield small rubbery pieces of fat that will pepper your finished dish. Rendering lard before using it in a dish accomplishes two goals: First, it preserves the fat by removing excess water and other impurities that might otherwise cause it to spoil; rendered lard is shelf-stable, just like olive oil or clarified butter. Second, it produces a luxuriously creamy, spoonable fat that not only melts instantaneously in a hot pan, but also yields beautifully flaky pastry.