October 7, 2011
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Like many people when I bought a cut of pork I used to trim off as much fat as I could and discard it. But then I relearned something that our grandmothers knew: lard is a very useful fat. I suspect that the main reason lard fell out of favor was the marketing of cheap, shelf-stable shortening made from government-subsidized soy bean or cottonseed oil as more modern and healthy. Of course we know now that hydrogenated shortening is high in trans fatty acids which are not at all healthy. Natural lard contains no trans fat. It does have 39% saturated fat compared with 63% for butter and 14% for olive oil. However, like olive oil it is high in monounsaturated fats, 45% for lard vs. 73% for olive oil (both also contain 11% polyunsaturated fatty acids). So used in moderation lard makes a great addition to your palette of cooking fats. A word of caution: lard sold in supermarkets is usually hydrogenated to extend its shelf life. That also covert some 4% of the fat to trans fats. Don’t buy it!
Making lard is easy. For the small quantities I use I make do with the fat I trim from a pork shoulder or loin. If you want to make larger quantities your best source of pork fat is a local farmers’ market. Just as a meat vendor to set some aside for you.
Preheat the oven to 225° (or you can do it on the stove top). Cut the fat into small cubes, no bigger than 1-inch. Place them in a heavy pot like a cast iron Dutch oven. Cover with water by ½ inch. Bring to a boil on the stove top and put into the hot oven. Render for about 2 hours, stirring from time to time, until the water has evaporated and all the fat has been expressed by the cubes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit but remain liquid. Strain into suitable containers. Freeze any that you do not expect to use for a few weeks. Keep the rest in the refrigerator.