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.
Re: bacon grease in a coffee tin.
Back in the day, bacon fat was the only source of cooking oil so the turn over on the grease was pretty quick which meant a small chance of rancidity.
Now that we have refrigeration and other choice of cooking fat, the bacon grease will tend to sit around longer. As a result, it would make sense to refrigerate until needed.
I wouldn't necessarily recommend rendering the leaf lard with the other lard. If you plan on using the leaf lard for baking, the pure leaf lard is perfect and won't leave your sweet baked goods with a pork taste. You might want to keep some of the rendered leaf lard separate. I've never baked with it, but I hear it's great for baking. I'm in the process of getting my hands on some myself from Stillman's Farm, I have some vintage cake recipes that I'm dying to try, that call for lard.
On a side note, I have used regular supermarket lard for pie crust once, and while it came out nice and flaky, it did have a pronounced pork flavor-but it was just regular Armor lard, not a nice leaf lard.
When we rendered our lard, we chilled it in big pans, then cut it into 4 oz portions like sticks of butter, later wrapping them in plastic wrap and putting them into freezer bags for freezing.
We love our lard in tamales and in flour tortillas.