Regarding pork fat: rendering, storage, and usage.
This afternoon, I took a whole hog butchering class today and as we were dividing up the spoils, no one wanted the leaf lard. I gladly took it all, remembering how much I've heard about the wonders of lard for baking and frying goodness.
Now that I have all this leaf lard (and a few hunks of back fat), I need to figure out the best way to render and store it.
-A slow cook with a little bit of water seems to be the ticket for rendering. Stove top, oven, crock pot have all been recommended. I'll probably going with Alton Brown's recommendation of a 300F oven for 3-4 hours, mashing the fat bits every 30 minutes. I assume the back fat can go right in with the leaf lard, but if they should be dealt with separately, someone please say so.
-After this is done, strained, and cooled, storage in the refrigerator is OK for a few months, considerably longer in the freezer. Simple enough.
-On a related topic, recent time spent visiting and talking to people in the South brought up the idea of keeping bacon fat. I'm all for getting bacon flavor into every dish possible, but is the traditional "store it on the stove top in a coffee can" really safe? Seems a bit risky to me.
Now, after I have all this wonderful lard (whatever I do manage to get out of 2-3 pounds of leaf lard/back fat, what should I be doing with it? Any and all recommendations are welcome.
I've used Alton Brown's instructions, and am very pleased with the result. Mine wasn't leaf lard, just plain lard, included with the purchase of 1/2 pig from a farmer. I've used it for both sweet and savory pie crusts, couldn't be happier. I keep it in the freezer.
For generations before we had air conditioning people did "store it on the stove top in a coffee can;" however, I keep mine in the fridge.
I rendered lard from 1/2 an organic, pastured pig. It came to me already ground and in a big, big bag: http://www.flickr.com/photos/splatgir... which I think made it easier and faster to render than working with chunks, but it was still a huge long job.
I just put it all into pots on stovetop and let it go until it stopped releasing bubbles/steam, then strained it into jars and froze. I got three gallons of lard. Organic pastured pig lard sells for $12 a pint at a local gourmet market so I felt like I made gold!
I've used it for everything you can think of--to confit, frying, and as an ingredient in anything that calls for a fat. And yes, I save bacon fat--I keep the jar in my fridge. Pancakes are the default use, but try using it to make aioli--you'll swoon.
Leaf lard is known for being best for pie crust, I think mostly because it's less porky. YMMV, but the piecrust I make with my lard is amazing, and that hint of porky just makes it seem more like grandma's, IMO. It's not something you'd notice unless pointed out though.
For rendered fat, if you want to strain it more purely (often not the case with bacon grease, but true for other animal fats), after it cools a bit, put it into a covered container with some water (about a half to an inch) cover and shake vigorously and then refrigerate overnight. The next day, run a knife around the congealed fat, and remove it, draining off the water. Cut off the bottom layer of the fat - the meniscus of the water will have trapped the finer impurities along that line. Then remelt into your longer-storage container and freeze. Will keep for years.