How to render pork fat

1 01 2011

I mentioned over here that I’d been given a huge ham. It was a nice butcher’s ham, with a huge ribbon of fat through it. Seemed a shame to waste it, so I asked the internet how to render the fat into lard. This is the process of melting the fat to get rid of the impurities and other bits that will make it go off. You (supposedly) end up with delicious lard, which can be used in all sorts of things, lasts for ages, and is not as bad for you as you might think. My dad tells stories of lard and dripping sandwiches as a kid… I suppose, in that way, it’s a bit like butter. I’ve only seen the strange white blocks of it in the supermarket – but apparently those are hydrogenated to make them last longer. If you make it yourself, it’s not hydrogenated, which makes it healthier.

The best instructions were from the Homesick Texan – the Architect agreed with me that if anyone would know how to render lard, it’d probably be someone from the south bit of America.

It seemed a bit scary, but it was a pretty easy process, so I’ll share how I did it. I decided to do a “wet” render, which means that you add a little water to stop the fat from sticking to the pan when it’s just starting out, before the fat starts to liquefy. The water boils off during the process, and means your lard at the end will have a milder flavour.

1. Cut all the fat off the ham. Try to avoid the meat, but don’t be too worried about it. I had about 550g of fat.

2. Dice the fat, as small as you can (be bothered).

3. Get out your dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan. Put half a cup of water into the pan, and add the fat. Put it on a low heat. Find a good book or some other task that can be frequently interrupted for the next few hours. Here’s how it looked when I started.

4. Watch. Wait. Stir every 10 minutes or so. The water will come to a boil and the fat will slowly start to liquefy. This is not a fast process. Here’s how it looked after an hour.

5. Keep stirring. The water will boil off and be replaced by liquid fat. Ever so slowly the chunks will shrink and start to brown up. Here’s the end of the second hour.

6. At some stage around now, it will start to sizzle and pop a bit. You need to stir it a bit more regularly after that – I used a spatula to scrape the browning-up bits off the bottom of the pan. I may not have needed to do this, but I wasn’t about to waste two hours of stirring by those bits burning and spoiling the flavour. After three hours, there was a reasonable amount of liquid fat, which was clear, and the rest of the solids (baby cracklins!) were small and brown. I could still see pieces of fat though, so I kept going. It started to foam a bit too.

7. A lot of recipes said that the cracklins would rise to the surface and then sink back down, and that’s when you know the lard is rendered. This never really happened – probably because my volume was too small. So I kept going until I couldn’t see any bits actually floating on the surface, which was at the four-hour mark.

8. Let it cool for about 10 minutes, and then strain the lard. I used a metal sieve lined with muslin, into a pyrex bowl. The liquid lard will be yellow and runny. I got about 450ml. Let that cool for a further 10 minutes, and then pop it into the freezer to set. The internet assures me that this gives the best texture and reduces graininess.

9. Meanwhile, the cracklins left behind in the strainer were delicious still fairly fatty, so back into the pot with them for a little more rendering. I added a few tablespoons of water – which I possibly didn’t need to, but it deglazed the pan and stopped the cracklins sticking.

10. The second round only lasted about 20 minutes – but I got another 70ml of lard out of it, with a slightly darker colour, which I’ve stored separate to the main one. Here’s how it looked at the end.

11. Let your cracklins cool and store in the fridge. The original bacon bits. Seriously. Good on just about anything.

12. After an hour or so in the freezer, the lard will be set. You can keep it in the freezer or store in the fridge for several months. Check it – just like a real one:

All up, it was easy, if a little time consuming. A total of 5 hours to get 500ml of pure lard, plus about 1/2 cup of cracklins, from about 550g of fat. I also did my filing, cleared out the contacts in my phone, read all my feeds, cleaned out the fridge, made ham stock, washed up, did some washing…

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