Cooking With Pasture Raised Animal Fats
Fat is back on the scene and I hope it's back for good because it is so amazingly delicious and believe it or not, healthier for us than we've been led to believe over the years. Too much of a good thing can be dangerous but healthy fats can be enjoyed in reasonable amounts as part of a healthy diet. I'm not a nutritionist but the more good fats I eat, the better I feel and adding lard, rendered chicken fat, otherwise known as schmaltz, or beef tallow to my repertoire in the kitchen has been fun.
Here on the farm as I'm sure you can imagine, we have access to lots of animal fat and using it to cook with is a great way to use the whole animal. Lard is one of my favorite fats to use in the kitchen. Lard is the fat of the pig. You can use the fat from the belly and the back but that fat will have a more pronounced pork flavor than the leaf fat that is preferred by bakers for its mild, almost neutral flavor. The leaf fat comes from around the loin and kidneys and when rendered, is clear and perfect for baking, I love a lard pie crust! All lard is great for frying as it has a high smoke point so next time you make some homemade French fries, try frying them in some lard. Our kids love it when we pop popcorn in lard and call it lardy corn!
If you haven't tried chicken fat or schmaltz, a Yiddish/German word for grease, you're in for a treat. The delicious fat that drips to the bottom of the pan when you roast a chicken is the essence of this cooking fat, it makes a delicious gravy and when used to cook your vegetables, will lend them a delicious flavor. In traditional Jewish cuisine, chicken fat is rendered and cooked down with onions.
Tallow is the rendered fat from the cow or lamb. These days the only times you really see this fat is in the form of a suet block covered in seeds out in your backyard in winter, but that hunk of fat is delicious when rendered into tallow. The beefy flavor comes through slightly when the fat is rendered so it's a great fat for adding extra flavor to a dish. Tallow is also a high heat cooking fat so it makes a great choice when frying and unlike lard and schmaltz, it doesn't need to be refrigerated.
I've covered just the fats of the animals that we have here on the farm and that I'm familiar cooking with but don't forget about duck fat and ghee (clarified butter), those fats are also a great alternative to the vegetable fats that could contain pesticide residues and GMO's. Clearly, the attitudes on what's healthy in the way of fat change on a near constant basis, but if you're willing to try these fat alternatives, I think you'll enjoy them. We have all of your fat needs met here at WVF. We have suet from our 100% grass-fed and finished cows, leaf, belly, and fatback from our pasture-raised pigs, and whole, pasture-raised chickens in our farm store.