Rendered fat has gone from a kitchen staple to something of a novelty (that might be experiencing a resurgence). As far as I’m concerned, Crisco is the freakish novelty — not fat from free-range animals.
I spent the days leading up to 2013 rendering beef fat (tallow) that I got from Rose Ranch. It’s a time-consuming process perfect for wintertime, since it keeps the kitchen warm. This is only about half of the tallow I got from Don and Vicki, so I’m thinking I need to learn how to make candles or soap with the remainder of unrendered fat in the freezer.
I typically get these questions when people learn that I am enthusiastic about fat:
What is rendering?
Rendering is the process of melting fat so that the connective tissue and/or skin can be filtered out. It is homogenous, which makes it more suitable for using in recipes or scooping into a skillet.
Why go to the trouble of rendering animal fats?
There are a couple of reasons I embrace freshly rendered animal fats:
Most of the animal fats I’ve used were given to me. Free is a pretty powerful motivator. And as I’ve said before, my transition from vegetarian to omnivore included an increased appreciation for the whole animal. In addition, I find satisfaction in knowing where my food comes from and how stuff works. I’m not interested in using animal fats from factory farms.
Animal fats have a bad reputation, but I already embrace butter (in moderation) as a cooking fat. Tallow has less saturated fat than butter. I’m no expert, but compelling arguments exist for refocusing toward sugar the societal disdain currently aimed at fat.
What do I do with animal fats?
Lard and tallow are great for deep-fat frying, pastries, and biscuits, and can substitute shortening or butter in some recipes. Schmaltz, or chicken fat, is delicious in gravy, dumplings, and for pan frying. I don’t make these items very often, so luckily fat keeps for a year or so when stored in the freezer.
Breakfast on New Year’s Eve: biscuits made with freshly rendered tallow; topped with wild blackberry jam.