Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rendering leaf lard

(Cubing the lard)
(Roasting the lard)
(Rendered lard, before it cools)

I went on a wild goose chase last week looking for leaf lard. What is leaf lard, you ask? Why on earth would I want lard? And, um, lard? Really?

Well, yes. Lard is real food. It isn't hydrogenated like shortening. (Hoists self up on soapbox.) There was a time when we humans ate real food. Then the "nutrition experts" --usually connected to the government, or corporations, or both-- stepped in and declared real food bad for you. Next, the chemists were hired to replace real food with food-like substances. Then we all started to get sick and fat. Think these things are related? (Falls off soapbox in a froth.)

But I digress, as I am wont to do. Leaf lard. Leaf lard is the interior lard that surrounds the organs, usually the kidneys. It is a finer grade of lard and doesn't have a pork taste or smell when baked, so it's much preferred for pastries.

Now, I'm not much of a baker. It's just not on my list of things to do, and even less so since I was diagnosed with celiac a decade ago. But, I decided that if I was going to bake this year for Thanksgiving, I was going to go whole hog (sadly, pun intended).

I looked for lard all week in downtown Detroit, in vain. It got to the point I was ready to order it online- for about $50.00, shipping included. That's an awful lot of dough for lard, even good lard.

But all along, all I really needed to do was wait for Saturday morning to go to our beloved Eastern Market in downtown Detroit. We go every Saturday, year in and year out, but our dear old farmer's market never ceases to amaze. If you can't find it at Eastern Market, you probably don't need it.

Certain vendors at Eastern are seasonal, meat vendors chiefly among them. The big old sheds that comprise the market are unheated, and the meat can't spoil in a Detroit winter. The pork vendor who appears in late November has an old portable glass butcher case with whole pig heads inside, among other impressively large pork parts. It's quite spectacular to see these whole, freshly butchered parts in what is essentially an outdoor market.

And wouldn't you know it; the pork vendor had leaf lard. For One Dollar and Forty-One Cents. that's a buck-forty-one. $1.41, people. That beats fifty bucks and airplane shipping any day.

Now I had to render it. And it was easy, and didn't take too long, either. Cube it up, toss it in a roaster (no lid), let it bake at about 325 until it melts. What's left will sort of look like soft pork rinds (but it's not what I'd call edible- I tried it, and it's darned nasty.) Strain out the solids, pour carefully and slowly into jars. Let cool. Voila, home-rendered lard, ready for baking. I cooled it outside; in a matter of hours it was solid and a beautiful snowy white. I will say that the smell during rendering was pretty strong- like I'd been frying chicken all day- and the smell stuck to my clothes and skin. But it diminished pretty quickly with the crack of a window. And personally, I don't mind smelling like I've been cooking something interesting.

I recommend this food adventure to any baker out there. It made for a fun, educational day. And I have my very own leaf lard, and also a source for leaf lard. Neat, huh?


heather t said...

So... how do you use it? Instead of butter or shortening?

Also, I think I'm in love with your toaster.

ilex said...

Lard is used exactly like shortening, but it is rock hard and cools very dense, so I let it rest on a warm stove for a short while before trying to spoon it out. It also freezes beautifully for long-term storage.

I can arrange introductions with my toaster, Heather... then I'll just leave you two kids alone.

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Hooray for natural fats!!!!!

Condo Blues said...

Ode du Leaf Lard - the new and natural perfume?

PJ said...

Your writing style is so natural and so funny. I always leave giggling.
I'm completely fascinated with all the new cooking information that I've found on your blog. I love pies and I think I'm going to have to find and make my own leaf lard.

I recently learned that grass fed beef do not have bad fat in them, that you actually get some omega oils (I can't remember which ones) and other good things. My in-laws used to raise cattle and it tasted completely different than store bought. I wonder if that's true for pork, if it alters the fat composition if they're grass fed.

chaiselongue said...

This is a great find - your market sounds wonderful. And I agree that natural fats are much better than manufactured gunk. Here we usually use olive oil or sometimes butter, and the charcutier who comes every wednesday to our market and the local shop both sell rendered pork fat - it's called 'sain doux' which literally translates as 'healthy soft'! And it is!!!

ilex said...

PJ, pigs aren't 4-stomached ruminants like goats and cows- they have single stomachs, like people. And like people, a diet of grass would kill them. They are omnivores and need a wide variety in their diet. But like Michael Pollan said, we're not only what we eat, we are also what our food eats. If pigs are fed a diet of GM corn and chemicals and antibiotics, all that crap gets passed on to us. Pigs need good food, too.

PJ said...

I don't think I've ever considered the difference, the number of stomachs that is. I would love to render my own leaf lard but I was wondering where I was going to find the right, well fed pig. I guess I'll have to go to Ever'man's (local fabulous food cooperative) and see if they have a connection.

dausone said...

Just wanted to address PJ'S frustrations, because I share the exact problem. Check out eatwild.com, a resource where you can find local small farms in your area. Just call them up and ask what they are feeding their pigs and if they sell leaf lard which they probably do. And just be forewarned that even in the most humane and friendly farming conditions, it might not be too pleasing to find out what pigs really like to eat. ;)

Carolyn said...

About 4 weeks ago I rendered my own leaf lard. It looked beautiful. I stored it in clean glass jars in the fridge. Upon inspection today I discovered this strange black/blue mold growing on it. Is this a harmful mold? Can I just scrape it off? Did I do something wrong?

Any feedback would be appreciated.

from Carolyn, Eugene OR