I love the word proper. It sounds so snooty. *THIS* is proper and there is simply no other acceptable manner to go about it. Of course that’s not true. There are countless ways to make lard—high heat, low heat, or a variance of both–in a pan on the stove top, in a crockpot, on a sheet pan in the oven. Many cultures outside the United States take lard very seriously. It is a cryin’ shame it’s been demonized so much in America. It’s great to cook with, making for unbelievably light and flaky pie crusts, biscuits, and such.
One of my revelations during our weekend spent with the Austrians in New Jersey was a delicate little thing they called “whipped lard” (lard is more traditionally referred to in Austria as “Schmalz”, as Heath points out in the comments section). Whipped lard is simply rendered pork fat that has been thrown into a Kitchen-Aid mixer and whipped like egg whites. Toss in a bit of salt, spread it on a piece of warm bread—make ya slap ya mama.
What is the best way to render lard though? High heat has its place in certain cultures but it produces lard that is anything but void of flavor. Christoph Wiesner demonstrated the way he and Isabell render lard back home.
First, you must have the right pan**.
The angled walls of the pan end up making or breaking the final product. According to Christoph, the shape of the lard pan forces the water out and away from the fat, causing it to bubble and boil as it releases the fat’s impurities in the air.
Begin by slicing evenly and thinly (1/8th of an inch thick) the backfat or leaf fat. Then cut those thin slices to be roughly an inch and a half long.
Place a handful of the sliced fat into the lard pan, turning the burner to medium heat. With a spatula, stir the fat until it begins to render and coat the pan. As it begins to melt, slowly add the rest of the fat in three or four equal batches. Stir continuously.
After a few minutes the fat will begin to bubble. I had never had this happen when rendering lard at home. Christoph again, attributed this to the shape of the pan. For the cleanest-tasting lard, it is extremely important to keep the temperature at 240 degrees farenheit. Use a thermometer. If it goes over 240 degrees for any period of time, the fat will start to take on flavor. Keep stirring.
After more time, the lard will begin to boil with some ferocity. This is the water escaping. Let it happen. As the water and impurities escape, the boiling will subside. It is done when it obviously stops boiling and becomes clear. One thing to point out is that not all of the fat will render completely. Strain most of the lard, leaving a little for the bits that are still left in the pan. Now crank the heat up with the remaining fat and lard. We’re making lard chips now.
When they reach that golden, brown, and delicious stage, strain them into a potato ricer and squeeze them with as much gusto as your little hands can muster. Empty out onto a plate. If desired, they can be broken apart with a knife while they cool–I like the way the look coming out of the potato ricer, myself.
And THAT, is the way to make lard chips.
Once the strained lard is cooled, it can be transported to another container and kept in the fridge or the freezer for months. The uses for it are limitless. If its Mangalitsa lard, it is said to be high in omega 3 fatty acids and is better for you than say, most grocery store butter. We sauté with it, bake with it, whip it for bread, confit potatoes, fry chicken; it’s extremely versatile in the kitchen.
And for the next post, I hear the lovely and talented Jody (whom you can and should follow on twitter: @jodycakes) is going to share her experimental Mangalitsa lard cupcake recipe with us. Oh yeah.
*Many apologies for the less-than-stellar photo. I really thought I had taken a picture of the Christoph’s sweet lard pan with the real camera, but alas, it was with the iPhone…
**If you don’t want to go through the hassle of importing a special lard pan from Austria, OR if you don’t want to do large quantities at a time, I assume angled sauce pans will work extremely well in a pinch. After all, it is the same concept.