So I came across a Serious Eats recipe for something called "Biscochitos", an apparently New Mexico traditional cookie. Here's the site for the recipe and description: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...
The recipe calls for a cup of lard. I suppose I could go to the grocery store and buy lard. But I recently bought half a pig, and part of the package was about 10 pounds of pig fat. Just chunks of fat, all in 2 big bags.
Now, I've been reading up about lard and how to make it. Seems it can be either dry processed or wet processed. Seems there are different qualities, depending in part on where on the animal the fat comes from.
Here's my question: Can I just take about a cup's worth of this frozen random pig fat, plop it into a metal pan, and stick it in the oven at 350 for a while, until it's all "rendered" (and is render a fancy word meaning: the stuff melts, and along the way, it changes chemical and physical properties somewhat?)? Will that be sufficient for making these biscochitos? Or should I stick to the supermarket variety of lard and use the stuff I have to feed the birds?
You need to render the lard on the stove top and stir to prevent solids from burning. When the fat has melted and any of the attached meat has sunk to the bottom, you will need to strain the lard into your storage containers. You should also be forewarned that rendering lard is one of the more malodorous jobs your kitchen will handle.
Wow, I couldn't disagree more. I use my slow cooker (crock pot) to render lard; it's easy and makes the house smell delicious, like roasting pork; the only downside is it takes a while (though it's almost entirely unattended time). I just cube it up, put it in the slow cooker on low for several hours and then strain and cool it. For biscochitos, you'll want to cook it just until the lard renders (it will be white when it cools and solidifies) - if you let it go much longer it will start to turn yellowish and roast a bit, which is very tasty for tamales and other savory goods but not what you want in cookies.
If you don't have a slow cooker, then you can do it on the stovetop but use a thick-bottomed dutch oven or similar and keep the heat very low to prevent it from frying or burning, instead of slowly rendering.
I would do more than a cup of the frozen fat - hell, I'd just go ahead and do it all, since it's a time-consuming process. Once you've strained it, just freeze the prepared lard and it'll be ready to go whenever you need it.
Do NOT use the stuff from the supermarket - it's hydrogenated and not very tasty. I'd personally rather use vegetable shortening, if that was your only option.
There are a few different threads on this recently, but the short answer is yes, you can throw it in the oven or on the stove and cook it gently and you'll have lard no problem. But a cup of fat will not produce a cup of lard. I'd use about a pound, just to be sure.
A couple notes on the smell. First, the more gently you cook the fat the less it will smell. If you cook slowly enough that there's no splatter (I personally shoot for nothing much stronger than champagne-style bubbles, but most folks----except the slow cooker advocates---cook it faster than that), it really won't smell that strongly. Second, it's a very subjective thing: some people---like JungMann above---think it stinks. I and many others find it heavenly. Give it a shot before assuming you won't like it.
If you don't want to make it, call a few good butcher shops. They might have some or be able to make some for you. I don't know what the Latino population is like in Minneapolis, but many Mexican groceries with a nice meat counter make tubs regularly, as lard figures so prominently in Mexican cooking.
Good luck, either way!
Personally, I would avoid the store bought stuff unless you know it was rendered locally and fresh. The lard found in the supermarket, in the green and white box, contains preservatives. Also, seems to have a different/weird flavor to it..
Since you're using in cookies as flavoring, the oven rendered pig fat should work out well.