You know how they say “everything old is new again”? Well, if you remember your mother or grandmother cooking with lard … it’s back, and in a big way. Why?
Back in the day, lard was considered a good, traditional source of fat in America, with cooks using it almost exclusively for pie crusts, frying, and myriad other things, including soap making. But in 1953, American scientist Ancel Keyes popularized the “lipid hypothesis” in his book Eat Well and Stay Well, which states that “there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease.” This led to the belief that high-fat foods were “dangerous” and “unhealthy,” and to the subsequent adoption of low-fat diets.
The modern industrial diet with its emphasis on low fat, fat free, and “healthy” fats like canola oil and margarine, are just that … the product of modern industry. The lipid hypothesis has many detractors, and research has placed its validity in question. But important saturated fats from animal (and vegetable) sources provide needed energy in the diet; they provide essential building blocks for cell membranes; and they act as carriers of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Fats from animal sources — lard, tallow, duck and goose fat — and vegetable sources — olives, coconut, flax — provide our bodies with highly beneficial fatty acids; they keep our bones healthy (aiding calcium absorption); and they enhance the immune system. Engineered fats have none of these benefits. The matter of choosing which fats to consume is very important, and I urge you to explore research on traditional fats, specifically the research of Mary G. Enig, Ph.D, Sally Fallon, and the Weston A. Price Institute.
All about fats from animals
Lard, or pork fat, is about 40 percent saturated fat, 48 percent monounsaturated, and 12 percent polyunsaturated. The amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids varies in lard according to what the pigs have eaten, making fat from pastured or grassfed hogs the best choice. Lard also is a good source of vitamin D.
However, not all lard is healthy. Most of the lard you find stocked on the grocery store shelves has been harvested from “factory farmed” animals; it’s been hydrogenated, bleached and deodorized, and emulsifiers and other chemicals have been added. Stay away from it!
Healthy lard, a source of beneficial saturated fat, comes from grassfed or pastured pigs, specifically from the leaf fat that’s deposited around a pig’s kidneys. You can buy leaf fat at a butcher shop, at a small, local meat processor (sometimes given away for free), or from a local pig raiser. Once rendered, this type of lard has almost no pork flavor and can be used with excellent results in baking since the large fat crystals produce an exceptionally flaky crust.
Rendering lard is one of the easiest tasks you can perform in the kitchen — it really is. There are two basic ways to do it; some say the water method produces a milder taste, but if done carefully and correctly, either way will produce a desirable product.
Keep reading for instructions on how to render lard using dry rendering and the water method. Also, keep reading for a scrumptious Cinnamon Rolls Recipe With Lard and buttermilk icing.
Karen Keb is a frequent contributor to GRIT and editor of Heirloom Gardener magazine, as well as a contributing editor to Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient by the Editors of GRIT Magazine (Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2012).
How to render lard: dry rendering
Once you’ve acquired the fat from a processor or farmer, chop it into chunks (if it isn’t already).
While it’s still frozen, run it through a food processor with a metal blade or meat grinder to get the chunks even smaller. The finer the chunks, the less time it will need to spend in the oven.
Heat oven to 225°F.
Fill large roasting pan with chopped fat.
Roast slowly for 30 to 45 minutes, or until fat has melted and protein particles (cracklings) are floating on top. The less time it spends in the oven, the better, since too much time in the heat can produce an undesired pork flavor as the protein particles cook.
Skim off cracklings and set aside for chickens or dogs — some people love to salt and eat these as a snack.
Place mesh colander lined with double layer of cheesecloth or butter muslin over large bowl and pour yellowish liquid fat through it. This will remove any remaining solid particles. Repeat using clean cloth.
Pour liquid lard through funnel into clean canning jars and allow to cool at room temperature for several hours.
Store in refrigerator or freezer. Once completely cooled and solid, lard will turn from yellow to snow-white. It will keep for many months.
How to render lard: water method
This method can be done in a pot on the stove top or in a slow cooker.
Place chopped fat in medium-sized saucepan (the pan must be small enough to fit into your refrigerator). Cover with water and heat over low heat until fat is melted and bits of protein are floating on top. (Tip: Add a halved potato into the pot to help soak up pork flavors.)
Turn off heat and allow to cool. Place pot in refrigerator and chill overnight.
When mixture is completely chilled, pop out the chunk of white lard sitting on top of the water. The cracklings will have settled to the bottom in the water. Chop and store in glass jars or airtight containers.
Substitute lard for “shortening” in any recipe. Use lard in place of oil when frying, in pastries like pie crusts or cinnamon rolls, and when sautéing vegetables or roasting potatoes. You’ll be delighted with the texture and flavor (or lack of pork flavor) that real lard provides.
Cinnamon rolls recipe with lard
These cinnamon rolls use an old-fashioned, but time-honored, method of first making a sponge dough, which allows the dough to ferment and build extra flavor before being combined with the rest of the ingredients. These are large, bakery-style rolls, and the buttermilk icing is irresistible!
A decidedly modern trick for slicing the dough roll: Use unflavored, unwaxed dental floss to cleanly cut the dough into rounds; it’s light enough to allow you to slice through the soft dough without squeezing out the filling.
Cinnamon Rolls Recipe With Lard
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups lukewarm water
8 1/2 to 9 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup lard, chilled, plus more for greasing
1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
In large bowl, combine yeast, salt, lukewarm water and 4 cups flour. With large rubber spatula, mix together thoroughly; dough will be very sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place to rise for 2 hours. (This is the sponge.)
In separate large bowl, cream together sugar and lard; add 2 cups flour, one at a time, stirring well after each addition; mixture will resemble pie dough.
In small bowl, beat egg and yolks with electric mixer on medium-high speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cold water to eggs and stir to combine.
Combine the 3 mixtures all at once in sponge bowl and beat on low speed until smooth. Add enough additional flour (up to 2 1/2 cups) to make dough similar to consistency of bread dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place to rise, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
When doubled in size, turn dough onto floured board and knead until soft and pliable, about 10 minutes, adding up to 1 additional cup flour.
Roll out dough to 16-by-12-inch rectangle and 1/3-inch thickness with long side facing you. Using rubber spatula, spread butter evenly over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border at far end.
Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in small bowl and mix with fork. Sprinkle mixture evenly over dough.
Grease two 13-by-9-inch, deep baking dishes with lard.
Starting with long side closest to you, roll up dough like a jellyroll, pinching with your fingertips as you roll. Moisten top edge with water to seal the roll.
Using a sharp knife (or dental floss, see recipe introduction), cut roll into 12 equal slices; place 6 rolls, cut side down, close together in each dish. Cover loosely with flour-sack cloth or tea towel, and set in warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Heat oven to 350°F. Bake both dishes for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown; switch positions of dishes halfway through baking. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack for 5 minutes.
To prepare icing, place cream cheese, buttermilk and half the sugar in large bowl and beat with electric mixer until smooth and free of lumps. Add remaining sugar and vanilla and beat. Using a tablespoon, drizzle icing evenly over rolls. Serve warm. Yields 1 dozen.
— Recipe from Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient by the Editors of GRIT Magazine (Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2012).