When you’re cooking with meat, do you try to use every last morsel? If the answer is no, you’ll be surprised by the rewards. I try to waste nothing, whether I’m cooking with vegetables, fruits, grains, or meat. I should say especially meat. I never forget that something has died for my dinner. Every last bit of that needs to be used. When I discovered, while reporting The Butcher’s Guide To Well Raised-Meat, how many ways fat could be used, I was delighted to also discover how easy it is to render, store, and eat. Basically I’m talking about potatoes roasted in bacon fat. If you haven’t tried it, do.
Here’s an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat on many other kinds of fats and how to best use them. Do you use any of these? How? Let me know in comments.
Part of the nose-to-tail butchering is coming up with uses for fat, which makes us roughly 15 percent of an animal’s body weight. Over the years we have gotten pretty creative – we have made beef tallow citronella candles (short-lived – they smelled like a barbecue gone horribly wrong) as well as lovely smelling tallow-based soaps. But mostly we just make our fat into chunks of tallow, blocks of lard, and tubs of duck fat for our customers to (hopefully) cook with. Here’s the skinny on what’s what in the world of fats:
Caul Fat is the fatty lining of a pig’s stomach, which looks like a sheet of diaphanous webbing. It is used to wrap lean meats while roasting; this technique is called barding, and it imparts moisture into the meat as the fat melts.
Duck Fat Is there anything better than duck fat? Use it to panfry potatoes, like they do in French bistros, or confit a couple of duck legs. Duck (and goose, too) fat is great, but often hard to come by.
Lard, or rendered pork fat, is nearly 100 percent fat, as opposed to butter, which is about 80 percent fat and 20 percent water. Though animal fats have gotten a bad reputation as heart-stoppers and artery-cloggers, lard is still well loved among bakers and intrepid cooks who prize its ability to produce flaky crusts and silky sauces. Lard has a high smoke point, making it exceptional for frying things like chicken. It’s also healthier than manufactured hydrogenated fats like most vegetable shortenings.
Leaf Lard is the dry, hard, crumbly fat cap that surrounds the kidney of the pig. This fat contains the fewest impurities, making it the gold standard for baking. Mix this with butter (a 1:1 butter-to-fat ratio is good) for the best pie crusts you have ever made.
Tallow is rendered beef, veal, or lamb fat. It is used mainly commercially to make animal feed, soap, and cosmetics, or for cooking. McDonald’s managed to piss off a lot of vegetarians a while back by cooking their fries in tallow without informing the public – no wonder they were so addictive after a long night of drinking. We use lamb fat in our chicken sausages to get that rich, decadent taste that you just can’t get from plain old chicken. And we also know hunters who add lamb fat to their venison burgers for a more fatty, luscious taste.
HOW TO RENDER FAT
It’s simple to make high-quality lard or tallow that can be used for baking, cooking, or soap making. Fats should be stored in the refrigerator, where they will last for three months or can be frozen for a year. We like to cut our lard into manageable 1/2-pound chunks and freeze it – it defrosts quickly, and does not have to be defrosted in the refrigerator.
-Buy pork fat, beef suet, or lamb fat from your butcher shop or farmer. Make sure the fat is fresh, clean smelling, and not slimy. Whatever you render, count on getting a 75 percent return.
-Cut the fat into 1-inch squares and then finely dice it (we run ours through the meat grinder).
-Place the diced fat into a heavy-bottomed pan set over low heat. Melt the fat, without stirring, until it is literally a pool of oil. Alternatively, you can melt the fat in a Crock-Pot.
-Let the fat cool until it is still in liquid form but not hot.
-Strain the fat through a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer.