I had a Pie Class to teach, and my go-to not-so-secret ingredient, Lard (which I get mail order) was in short supply. What to do? I am a believer in using more than one fat in the dough. Using only butter tastes great, but I prefer the texture of a mixed fat dough. And for me, the texture of the crust is about 65% of the enjoyment of a pie. I’m not a Crisco hater, but more and more people are curious about lard these days. So I decided to render my own for the first time. Reading the new book Lard, by the editors of Grit Magazine gave me courage. I really don’t want to share where I bought frozen leaf lard, since it’s so hard to find, but I will. All I have to say to Surfas is please, please, order in a good supply!
Finding the leaf lard is the hardest part of the process. As you can see leaf lard is in flat sheets aka leaves. It is the internal fat that cushions the kidneys. When you render fat from leaf lard you get a beautiful white, subtle tasting fat that’s perfect for baking or frying. In contrast, lard rendered from sub-cutaneous or muscle fat tends to be darker in color and more, well….piggy. That’s the lard that’s easy to find. It’s delicious for frying, sautéing and savory dishes. There are lots of videos and blog posts online to walk you through the process of rendering your own lard.
Here is my favorite from A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa. The process is simple. But there is one important caveat. If you cook your fat to the point where the remaining protein bits are browned floating bits e.g. cracklings, then chances are the lard won’t be as beautiful for baking. So if you want cracklings to munch on or cook with I recommend following the instructions below, then re-cooking the still flabby bits to heavenly crunchiness. Use the resulting rendered fat for savory dishes or Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Chop up the fat into small pieces, or better yet freeze it and grind it. The smaller the pieces the more efficient your rendering will be. (Yes, I know the pieces pictured here aren’t small.)Put the chopped fat into a heavy pan with ¼ cup of water, just to start the process. The easiest way to render fat at low temperature is in the oven or in a crock pot turned to low. You would put the chopped fat into a roasting pan and bake at 250° until the fat liquefies and the remaining bits still aren’t floating.
But I don’t have an oven and my crock pot cracked so I rendered the lard on the stovetop over very low heat until the fat liquefied. Remember that you are rendering lard not making cracklings so you will be cooking the raw fat until it liquifies off the remaining protein but not until you have crunchy brown cracklings. You want the liquefied lard to remain sweet and fresh tasting. The fat will still be light in color and flabby.