We have been taught that lard is bad, but is it really that bad?
Most people don't associate lard with modern kitchens. For many of us, it is a relic of bygone times and an unhealthy one at that. The truth is that lard has gotten a bad rap, but more and more chefs are beginning to use more of it over vegetable shortening or butter.
What is lard?
Lard is made from animal fat, usually pork, that has been separated from the meat. Most lard is made through a process called rendering, in which the fatty parts of the pig (such as the belly, butt, and shoulder) are slowly cooked until the fat is melted. The fat is then separated from the meat. Once chilled, lard hardens into a smooth, opaque substance, which may or may not have a lingering pork taste.
Types of lard
All lard comes from pig fat. However, the type depends on how it is extracted and where it comes from.
The unrendered variety is simply pig fat from which the meat has been trimmed. It is not melted or filtered. It has a lingering pork taste and is not the best choice for baking or any dish you don't want to taste like pork.
Rendered lard is more widely used, since it doesn't have the same strong, lingering flavour as unrendered lard. It is made from melted, filtered, and chilled pork fat.
The most popular type is processed lard, since it doesn't have a lingering pork flavour. Processed lard is made by melting, filtering, and clarifying pork fat.
Leaf lard is among the most luxurious of all lards. It derives from the leaf-shaped fat that surrounds the kidneys and abdomen. This type of lard is mild in flavour and excellent for pastry. Since it's softer, creamier, and smoother than all other types of lard, it's the best option for baking.
Why do you render lard?
Meat is mostly fat, so it's not surprising that fat can be used as a tasty oil substitute when melted down. Rendering lard is the process of melting and breaking down animal fats – excess water and other impurities are removed, thus preserving the fat and preventing it from spoiling. When rendered, hard animal fat is melted and strained (to remove blood, veins, and tissues) and clarified for cooking purposes. Fat from pigs (and cows, lambs, ducks, and chickens) can be used to produce a creamy white shortening — a solid fat at room temperature and liquid at warmer temperatures — that can be added to recipes.
How to render lard
Large glass measuring cup
4 quarts lard cubed
1/4 cup water
- Lard that isn't frozen can be put in the freezer for a few hours to harden up. If it's frozen solid, leave it at room temperature for a few hours until it softens a bit: you want slightly frozen lard.
- Chop the lard into cubes of 1-2 inches.
- Pour 1/4 cup of water into the slow cooker's bottom.
- Turn on high the slow cooker and add cubed lard.
- Cook for 30 minutes, or until the lard begins to melt and the pieces look shiny.
- Stir the lard and turn the slow cooker down to low. Stir every 30 minutes.
- Once the liquid reaches the top of the lard cubes (about 3 hours later), you are ready for your first rendering.
- Place a strainer or sieve lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl. Pour the rendered lard through with a ladle.
- Any solid pieces of lard can be placed back into the slow cooker to finish rendering.
- Allow the liquid lard to cool for about ten minutes, then pour it into quart-sized mason jars.
- Follow this process three times, pouring each rendering into a separate jar and labelling it "first", "second", and "third" to identify which one to use for cooking.
- Make sure the lard is completely cooled in the jar before covering it with a lid.
Results of different renderings
Lard should be rendered in three separate batches.
The first part of the rendering will result in pure white lard, which is excellent for baking. It's best to use for pastries, pie crusts, cookies, etc., because it's the least "porky."
The second rendering will have a more porky flavour, but it will not be overpowering. It's a flavour ideal for crackers or homemade tortillas.
A third rendering will result in a much more intense pork flavour. You use this lard to cook savoury foods like fried chicken and sautéed vegetables.
How to render lard in the oven
It is also possible to render lard down in the oven if you do not have a slow cooker. In an ovenproof stockpot, preheat the oven to 250-300° F and follow the same steps. You will need 8 hours to complete this process.
How to use rendered lard
Lard is a cooking fat used for baking, sautéing, grilling, or frying. Make sure to use rendered leaf lard or processed lard for any recipe that doesn't want a lingering pork flavour. Pie crusts that use lard will have a flaky crust. Use lard in a cast-iron skillet for deep-frying chicken or fries.
How to store rendered lard
Lard was used and stored for centuries before the invention of refrigeration. This fat can be stored for a considerable period at room temperature. Today, however, refrigerator storage is most common. In the fridge, it will keep up to a year. What determines if it’s still good is its smell: throw it out if it starts smelling rancid.
It is also possible to freeze lard for more extended storage. You can freeze it in bars, in cubes, in tablespoon amounts, or tubs, according to your preference. Freeze only once, and don't thaw and refreeze.