Once every few months or so, my flat fills up with the heavenly aroma of of pork fat simmering away on top of the stove, releasing its lovely golden liquid, and a couple of hours later, my fridge gets two new jars of freshly-rendered creamy, snowy lard.
I see you recoiling in horror already, trying to wash off all dirty thoughts and images of that four-letter white grease, stroking and reassuring your one-size-too-small pair of jeans that you have not given in to the evils of lard.
But fat is good for you, especially the natural, saturated fats that I see some of my friends try to peel or dab off. The doctors have finally come to realise it, but our grannies and their grannies have been eating and cooking with saturated fats all along and staying healthy, the curious French paradox isn't so confusing at all if you really think about it. It's about eating food that came from the land, fuel that came from rendering the fat of an animal, and that is by far more healthy than any "edible food-like substance" made by subjecting plants to industrial chemical processes to produce "healthier" vegetable oils like the rather vile but oh-so-popular rapeseed oil right now. The main unrefined plant oils that have been used traditionally in cooking, and hence you should be using, come from the olive, groundnut, palm, and coconut, and even then, I would save that precious bottle of extra virgin olive oil for a finishing drizzle as its delicate monounsaturated fats turn rancid at higher temperatures. The rest I love for cooking with, especially the previously vilified coconut, though I must say I have a special place in my heart for good, old-fashioned lard.
gotten its good name back. It is in fact high in the same monounsaturated fats we celebrate olive oil for, though you should hopefully by now have gotten rid of your fear of saturated fat. Facts and figures aside to convince your head that all things fatty are well and lovely, you only have to listen to your heart to give that low-fat yogurt a toss. Healthy food is not only about food that nourishes the body, but the soul, and soul food has got to taste good.
Is there any other reason why my mum's homestyle cabbage tastes so fabulous and no there is no msg in it; why pie crust made with lard is so especially flaky and fragrant; why the best hokkien prawn mee is fried in lard and mee pok is finished with a flourish of golden crackling; why the meltingly soft layer of fat in slow-cooked pork belly is so irresistably unctuous? Scientists have even found fat to be the sixth taste. It was groundbreaking when they discovered umami, but it seems pretty duh to me about the fat. Fresh bread is lovely, but fresh bread slathered with butter is another thing altogether. The same applies for when you finish a fresh salad or pasta with a glug of olive oil.
But back to lard. The only thing I would caution about lard, is to make sure you render it from fat that comes from a happy healthy pig. A factory-farmed pig cramped in a cage and pumped with antibiotics isn't going to give you the same nutrients, or from my cuckoo new-agey point of view, the same life-giving force or qi.
HOW TO RENDER LARD
1 kg of fat from a happy pig*
A little water
*First, find a good source of pastured pig, either from the farmer's market, or from a butcher you trust. I firmly believe a good relationship with your butcher is as important as a good relationship with your hairdresser, so make friends, shower them with love, and add them on twitter. You often can get bones and bits for peanuts if you're on good terms with your butcher/ are buying a ton of meat anyway. Re: fat, I just get normal back fat. If you want a perfectly snow-white lard, you should try to get leaf lard which comes from around the pig's kidney.
1. Chop up the fat into small pieces.
2. Add enough water to cover the base of a heavy-bottomed pot. The water prevents the fat from burning before it starts to melt. Add the chopped fat and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
3. After about an hour, the water will evaporate and the fat will be melted, and later, the solids (white crackling) will start to sink. You can then strain at this stage and use the more or less odourless flavourless lard for baking or anytime you want a neutral cooking oil. Then let the rest of the crackling continue to go until brown and crispy and then strain again, using that savoury lard for flavourful frying.
4. Keep the cracklings, delicious salted and sprinkled over salads, or noodles (bak chor mee!) and pour the strained fat into jars. When cooled, it will become a soft creamy semi-solid, the first batch whiter than the second one. It will keep in the fridge for about 2 months, or freeze for probably a year.
Sometimes when I make homemade stock, especially plain ones with nothing added at all, I just let the stock chill overnight and scoop out the top layer of fat. If that's a pork stock, that's lard. And if it's a chicken stock, that chicken fat is just as delicious for cooking with. This is of course not the large-batch lard described above, but a lovely tip anyway in case you're very unwisely thinking of discarding that fat.
I've seen wonderful blog posts for doing in the slowcooker/crockpot, or in the oven, with step-by-step photos, so you might want to give those a read too. Do it whichever way you choose to do, but no longer live in fear of the dreaded hog grease.