It wasn't until years later that it started to make sense to me. So, maybe it wasn't in spite of our reduction in fats that we have gotten more ill and overweight, but rather because of it. Fats have been replaced by sugar which has since been shown to fuel cancer, bring up cholesterol levels, and cause, either directly or indirectly, heart disease and many of the problems that we can develop health-wise. Not only are people finally realizing that a low fat diet isn't as good for you as was once thought, but neither are the supposedly healthier fats (ahem, think margarine) that we have traded for the traditional fats that our ancestors used.
Years ago tallow (made from beef fat, aka. suet) and lard were used quite commonly used in cooking. If you actually look at the profile of traditionally made and rendered animal fats, they don't really look that bad. They have a high percentage of monounsaturated fats, the ones that are supposed to be so good for you in olive oil. What is supposed to be bad about them is the also high percentage of saturated fats, but little by little researchers are realizing that saturated fats were likely unfairly demonized. Even at my last CE course about nutrition several years back, we were already being advised that coconut oil, despite being so high is saturated fats, was one of the healthiest fats that you can cook with because of its stability, amongst other benefits. Even a healthy oil like olive oil isn't necessarily so healthy once it is heated to the high temperatures needed for frying, so it is better reserved for using raw.
I have come to believe that the more natural, and less processed something is, the more likely that it is good for you. I'm not an expert, though, but rather someone who spends a lot of time reading about these things. The truth is that once saturated fats were demonized, they weren't studied much anymore, so there really isn't much information available about them. What I can say is that I couldn't find any real studies that would show that they actually were bad. In fact, certain diets, like the GAPS diet incorporate using animal fats as the fats of choice for trying to heal the body.
I put off trying to render myself for quite awhile, though, because somehow rendering fat seemed like it was going to be something very difficult or scary to do. I had gotten over my intimidation to all the new words for me like suet and tallow, and the negative connotations to the word lard, but that drove me to buy some lard from the store. The problem? Supermarket lard isn't very good. It usually has other ingredients added and just doesn't have the same taste or texture that you get with homemade. Still, I kept reading about how other people rave about foods cooked in animal fats, or how flaky pastries and pie crusts become when made with it. Plus, I love mantecados, a Spanish shortbread made with lard that is very popular here at Christmas. So, I finally tried it myself.
What you will need:
-Pork fat (I usually use around 2-3 pounds)
-crock pot or stove and pan
Step 1: Step One: Obtain Your Pork Fat of Choice, and Cut Into Small Cubes
To make a more tasteless lard, the supposedly highest quality "leaf lard," one should render the visceral fat of the pig. This is the fat in the region that surrounds the kidneys. For making pastries, people usually choose that lard so as not to end up with a pork flavored pie. I actually quite like the lard to have a slight taste of pork, though, so I don't mind using the fatback for rendering lard.
To begin, take the fat that you have obtained and cut it into small cubes. If you find it difficult to cut, they say that it is easier if you slightly freeze the fat for a little while. I haven't had much difficulty cutting ever, so I haven't personally done it, but I have kept the tip in mind just in case I ever get difficult-to-cut fat. :)
Step 2: Step 2: Heat the Fat Over Low Heat
In the crockpot, I use little to no water because I haven't had problems with the fat burning ever. With the stovetop method, though, I have added some water, just in case, to prevent burning. I don't add a lot because I want it to all evaporate by itself in the process. If it doesn't evaporate, you have to find a way of separating out the water in the end. I have never had to worry about that.
So, no matter how you decide to do it, all you really have to do to render lard is to heat the pieces of fat over a low heat.
Step 3: Step 3: Strain Off the Liquid Lard
As the yellow liquid starts to cool, it will start to solidify a bit and will get whiter and whiter.
Step 4: Step 4: Prepare the Cracklings for Eating- Yum!!
In any case, I have found a way to save the cracklings when they do come out hard (like in the picture this time). After drying them out more in the oven, I then fry them again in hot, liquid lard. They puff up and turn into pork rinds which are different than the cracklings (I'm not sure why-considering how they are made!!), but also quite tasty.
Step 5: Step 5: Store and Use Your Lard
It should last for quite awhile in the fridge. I have noticed that after several weeks, one of my batches started to taste less fresh. That is probably a good sign that it is starting to turn rancid. Even rancid lard can have uses, though. It can be incorporated into something like homemade soap! Another possible future Instructable??