Most people have pretty negative associations with the word “lard.” According to a recent story by NPR, we have Procter & Gamble’s marketing team to thank. “…Unlike lard, Crisco was made in a lab by scientists, not necessarily an appetizing idea back then. Procter & Gamble turned all that to its advantage. It launched an ad campaign that made people think about horrible stories of … lard. The ads touted how pure and wholesome Crisco was.”
It seems, however, as though tides are turning. Mainstream media are publishing articles “Singing the Praises of Fat,” “Ending the War on Fat” and “A Call for a Low-Carb Diet That Embraces Fat.” Furthermore, nutritionists agree that Trans Fat (like Crisco and Vegetable Shortening) should be avoided entirely. A final key piece of information: animals raised outdoors on pasture consume more vitamins through consumption of fresh green grass, other foraged food, and from the sun. They store important fat soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K) in their body fat. Lard from pastured pigs is especially high in vitamin D and in the same monounsaturated fat (oleic acid) that gives olive oil and avocados their heart-healthy characteristics.
Perhaps it’s worth revisiting the original shortening: Lard. On a frigid afternoon I decided to finally “deal with” the grass-fed lard leaf I’d purchased from a small farm in our neighborhood. If you know any local farms with pastured pigs, call them up! Leaf lard will likely be the cheapest item they sell. With a crock pot, my leaf lard turned out to be very simple to render.
1) Grinding the leaf lard makes everything very easy! If you don’t have a meat grinder, try asking a local butcher to help or pulse it in a food processor. You can also cut it into small cubes if you don’t have access to any processing equipment.
2) Put your ground leaf lard, along with 1/4 cup water, into your crock pot. The water will keep things from burning and will evaporate by the end of the cooking process. Set crock pot to low, and cook (covered) for an entire afternoon. You’ll notice the fat cooking out of the solids. I gave mine a stir every once in a while.
3) When the cracklings (the little pieces of solids) sink to the bottom, it’s time to strain. Pour the contents of your crock pot through a strainer, sieve, or cheesecloth into a bowl. Then pour the strained lard from the bowl into jars. It will look yellow, but will turn pure white when it cools to room temperature
4) Finish off your cracklings! Toss your cracklings in a frying pan with some salt, and cook as you would bacon. Like bacon, my cracklings browned better when I poured off the excess fat (I poured it into my half-full jar of lard) mid-way through.
5) Store lard in the refrigerator or freezer so that it keeps its fresh mild flavor and doesn’t go rancid. Cracklings can be used like bacon bits. I like to heat them back up again in a frying pan to get them extra crispy. I then sprinkle them over foods like guacamole, nachos, salad, or black beans as a special garnish. Lard is a great fat to use for frying, pie crusts, and baked goods. It is quite mild, so unlike bacon grease, it won’t add its own flavor to the foods you are cooking.
Want to add another traditional grass-fed animal fat back into your diet? Check out my post on making your own butter.