Lard, Have Mercy!

 Lard. In tub form.

Lard. In tub form.

I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but between our pigs and our cattle, we don’t buy seed oils anymore. I think if you dig through abandoned regions of our pantry you might find a dusty, half-empty bottle of olive oil, but we are strictly a lard/tallow/butter family now.

It’s our religion. We didn’t make the change for any hippy health reasons, but rather, I could no longer justify bringing more fats and oils into the house, given my line of work.

 Backfat ready to be chopped and melted.

Backfat ready to be chopped and melted.

I will say that now, every time I read about seed oils and hydrogenation and oxidation, I go massage the sunshine into the backs of my pigs and whisper that I’m sorry for all the bad things society made me believe about lard.

For those curious about the complicated process of lard, I’ll tell you: They take the fat from the back of our hogs, they cut it into small chunks or send it through the grinder, and then they warm it up until it melts so it can be strained into a tub. That’s it. No chemical solvent baths, centrifuges or bleaching. If that’s what you're into, ye must seek alternatives. But I’m a simple girl who likes a simple process. What can I say?

The same folks who told us that lard was unhealthy are now telling us that lard and other pasture-raised animal fats can actually help prevent cancer and heart disease. It’s all very confusing, but none of that matters now. What matters is that you have a giant tub of lard in your fridge or freezer, and it needs attention.

How can I store lard?

That depends on how seriously you are going to take me. Lard doesn’t really “go bad,” per say, but it does start to absorb funky flavors from you fridge after a while. I’ve heard field reports that if neglected too long it can get more of a “porky” taste. So I say spoon out what you’ll use in one month and store it in the fridge. Freeze the rest. I’ve heard of folks storing lard at room temperature, but that scares me. It has to have a certain water content to be shelf stable and … just make some room in your modern cooling appliance. It’s the least you can do for your lard.

BUT HOW WILL I GET THROUGH THIS I’M SO SCARED

 Butter-flavored Crisco is not welcome here.

Butter-flavored Crisco is not welcome here.

To start, you need to make at least 12 pies per day. I’m teasing. I mean, pie crusts are pretty exciting, but there are EVEN MORE THINGS you can use lard for. I need you to think of lard the same way you think of canola, vegetable, coconut oils, or butters and --dry heave-- Criscos.

Are you greasing a muffin pan? Put down that spray bottle of butter-flavored WTF-Ever and scoop a chunk of lard from the tub with a plastic baggy over your hand like a boss. Are you making brownies for your kid’s classroom?

Throw that vegetable oil out the window, for heaven’s sake you have an entire tub of lard in the fridge! Obviously, if you’re frying anything in a pan, I don’t have to tell you what to do.

The high smoking point makes lard an easy choice, though I will accept butter as a substitute. Or tallow if you are making fries. Nothing else.

For the most part, we substitute lard cup for cup in all our recipes. (Since this change, my good and bad cholesterol, by the way, falls on the scale roughly alongside ‘athlete,’ so as the keeper of the guinea pig arteries, I will let you know if that changes over the years.;)

Our pig’s fat tends to be fairly soft at room temperature, but we warm if slightly if liquid form is a necessity.

Here are a few more ideas:

PORK CONFIT

This is just wrong. Oh, so wrong. But so right. And it’s a two-day process, so get started yesterday.

  1. Dig that pork shoulder out of the freezer, thaw and cut into two-inch chunks.
  2. Rub everybody down with a nice coat of salt and spices and store it in a Ziplock bag in the fridge for 24-48 hours, turning once or twice. For a 3-4 pound roast, we like this mix: 1.5 TBS kosher salt, 2 bay leaves, 3 cloves crushed garlic, 2 TBS crushed black peppercorns, ½ TBS dried sage some rosemary, just wing it.
  3. Rinse the pork somewhat, pat dry and arrange the chunks in a dutch oven or a ceramic bread pan for smaller batches. Melt enough lard to cover the whole thing -- usually about 3 cups or so. Cook in a 200-degree oven for 4-6 hours, or until fork-tender.
  4. Now the hard part. Instead of scarfing it down immediately, you should let it cool, cover it and refrigerate or “ripen” for at least 24 hours. It will keep in the fat for several weeks, though it has never lasted that long here.
  5. At serving time, warm the pan o’ lard until you can dig out the meat. Sear on all sides, plate and praise your chosen deity, because you are now ruined to everything forever.

BONUS: Be sure to save the “confit jelly” that separates and forms at the bottom of the pan when the lard cools. Confit jelly is like a gelatinous homemade stock on steroids. Add this to soups or sauces or anything you want to taste awesome.

BONUS-BONUS: You can re-use the confit lard for the next batch, and over and over until it starts to make the meat too salty.We actually spread the seasoned confit lard on sweet corn in the summer, because we think we’re so funny when we call it “corn-fit”

PIE CRUST

No need to reinvent the wheel, here. You can’t beat a pie crust made from equal parts butter and lard. Don’t use one or the other. They must be mixed for flaky, buttery perfection. We like:

2.5 C flour

1 tsp salt

1 TBS sugar

1/2 C cold butter in chunks

1/2 C cold lard in chunks

1/4 C cold water

Pam has a great breakdown of the process here.

BUT DON'T FORGET

BiscuitsTortillas. You have Google, right?

Also, you do not have to eat it all.

Lard has many non-food uses as well. The best soap I’ve ever used was made from our lard. We also use it to season cast iron, and some folks use lard medicinally in balms and poultices.

 Leaf lard cooling.

Leaf lard cooling.

ADVANCED

When you get really cool and start burning through your lard faster than I can grow it, you can request that your back fat trimmings and leaf lard be left separate, opening a whole new world of opportunity.

Don’t let the butcher have all the fun of rendering.

You can take your fats and render the leaf lard separately (leaf lard is the fat that cushions the internal organs, and renders more to a more pure end product than the rest of the fat.) Or you can cut the fat into small dice and use it to make sausages or whip it into life-changing lardo.

Or you can send the kids to grandma’s house and lock yourself in the tub and rub the fat all over your body. Wait. That’s a different blog.

Your turn! Tell me how you empty your tub.