The Fat Kitchen

Rendering Tallow

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Living in a rural community, you never know what opportunities for barter may arrive at your door.  A neighbor of mine raised a couple of steers this past year and she offered me 25 pounds of unrendered beef suet from one 600-pound (hanging weight) steer in exchange for some of the rendered fat, which is called tallow.  She knew I was interested in cooking with beef fat because of my new cookbook, The Fat Kitchen.  Heck, I said, I'll throw in a copy of my book along with the tallow. 

            I rendered the fat this week.  The nice thing about suet (the fat from goats, sheep, and cattle) is that it is so hard, it grates nicely in a chilled food processor. And when you grate the suet into something that looks like the powdered, dried Parmesan cheese that comes out of a green canister, it melts very, very quickly.  In fact, grating and rendering the 3-pound batch I made took less time than the clean-up (about 45 minutes).  The tricks with using a food processor to grate animal fat are to do it only with suet, a very hard fat (so as not to gum up the works), chill the grating blade well and use the suet straight out of the freezer, and don't force the suet through the blade (don't burn out the motor). You'll need to use muscle to push the suet through, but when you get real resistance, stop.  Often you can take several slivers of pieces that didn't go through, turn them 90 degrees, and try again, pushing them so the thin edges meet the blade.

The grated suet looks like grated Parmesan from one of those green canisters.

The grated suet looks like grated Parmesan from one of those green canisters.

            Put the grated fat in a heavy saucepan and melt over low to medium heat.  As soon as it is all melted, strain it through a fine sieve (discard the solids or feed to a pet) and pour into a shallow pan to set.  Then clean up.

            The clean-up involves using a pot of boiling water to dip all your utensils in, then wiping them clean before washing.  Use the same boiling water to rinse out the saucepan you used.  Then dump the water outside -- not down your drain.

            The melted fat will be golden but will turn white as it hardens.  Sometimes, depending on the steer's diet, the white will have a yellowish cast.  I know this batch of fat came from a steer that was most grass-raised and "finished" with some vegetables, including a little corn.

Pour the melted fat into a shallow pan for easy removal

Pour the melted fat into a shallow pan for easy removal

            What am I going to do with all the fat?  I'll use it for all my frying.  It's the best for producing a crispy coating on french fries, potato pancakes, fritters, fried chicken, fried fish--you name it.  And, if you want to suggest a barter for some of it, I am all ears.

Fried chicken is extra crispy when fried in lard.

Fried chicken is extra crispy when fried in lard.

Celebrating Lard and Natural Animal Fats

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I’ve just joined Healthy Fats Coalition in time to celebrate the first annual National Lard Day, a celebration of pure lard, a traditional, authentic animal fat that is now enjoying a resurgence within America’s food culture and in home kitchens.

National Lard Day is the brainchild of the Healthy Fats Coalition, a group of like-minded organizations, companies and individuals that have developed an educational initiative dedicated to the proposition that healthy fats aren’t merely having a moment – they’re here to stay, as an essential part of the American diet. The HFC’s mission is simple: affirm that animal fats deserve a central place in kitchen, on the table and in the popular imagination.

“Fat is the soul of flavor,” wrote Nina Teicholz in her groundbreaking book, Big Fat Surprise (Simon & Schuster, 2014). “Food is tasteless and cooking nearly impossible without fat. Fat is essential in the kitchen to produce crispness and to thicken sauces. It is crucial in conveying flavors. It makes baked goods flaky, moist, and light. And fat has many other essential functions in cooking and baking.”

While writing The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, I started working with animal fats because people who raise their own meat animals are blessed with an abundance of animal fats and I wanted to learn how to work with them. I discovered that the fats contribute great flavor in the case of poultry fats and great texture in the case of all animal fats. Now I love working with animal fats and I’m happy to share the love.

Rendered leaf lard is great in cookies, as long as the lard has been rendered so it is neutral in flavor. I just made a batch of Polvorones, a lard-based cookie from Spain. The recipe originates from a point in the Spanish Inquisition when it was illegal to make these cookies with anything but lard (to smoke out Jews and Muslims, who were prohibited to eat pork by their religions). If that history weirds you out, but all means, call these cookies by one of their other American names, including  snow balls, moldy mice, sandies, sand tarts, or butterballs.  Or call them biscochitos (as they do in Mexico), tea cakes (as they do in Sweden and Russia), dandulas kiflik (as in Bulgaria), biscochos (as in Cuba), des kourabi (as in Greece) or rohlichky (as in the Ukraine). They were also called polvorones in Italy.  A cookie so widely adopted, and so thoroughly time-tested must be good, and it is.  It is! 

Melt-in-your-mouth Polvorones

Melt-in-your-mouth Polvorones

 1 cup pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts

1 cup lard (200g/7 ounces), at room temperature

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

            1. Combine the nuts and 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground.   Add the lard and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour and salt until combined. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour or until firm. 

            2. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line three lard cookie sheets with parchment paper.

            3. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.

            4. Bake, one cookie sheet at a time, for about 15 minutes, until the cookies look dry and cracked.  The color will not change much.

            5.  While the cookies are baking, place the remaining 1 cup confectioners’ sugar in a shallow bowl.

            6. Cool the cookies on the parchment sheets for a few minutes. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in the confectioners’ sugar.  Place on a wire rack to cool. 

            7. When the cookies have cooled completely, roll them again in the confectioners’ sugar to give them an even coating of sugar.  Store in an airtight container between sheets of parchment or waxed paper.  They will keep well for at least 1 week.

Chicken and Biscuits with Melissa Pasanen

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I’m so excited that Melissa Pasanen will write about the Fat Kitchen for Seven Days! The article will come out on November 14, which just happens to be the pub date when the book goes on sale.

I’m especially pleased because customs has held up the shipment of books that is meant to go out to reviewers and critics. The stores got their allotments, but somehow this one batch of books was flagged for a closer look.

While I don’t doubt that my book deserves a closer look — and some might even consider the idea of returning animal fats to the table a subversive idea—its a darn shame that reviewers aren’t getting the book as promised.

I was able to squeak out one copy for Melissa—that was the first problem solved. Next problem, what do you feed a journalist you want to impress? I started with duck-fat popcorn. As we munched and chatted, I handed her jars of rendered fat that I wanted her to see and smell. No porky, beefy, ducky odors there! But she did detect a note of nuttiness in the bear fat I presented here. “Oh! I’d really like to taste that,” she said.

No problem, I whipped up a little sautéed cauliflower, which was just delicious. Then I got down to the serious business of making chicken fat biscuits to go along with the chicken pot pie filling I had made earlier. Then it was on to an apple tart.

Pastry made with lard is easy to handle.  I filled the free-form tart with duck fat caramelized apples.

Pastry made with lard is easy to handle. I filled the free-form tart with duck fat caramelized apples.


This is the recipe I followed. It’s from The Fat Kitchen, of course!

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Buttermilk Biscuits made with chicken fat

4 cups fresh or frozen cubed or chopped vegetables, peeled if necessary (see below)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons (75g/2.6 ounces) any poultry fat

2 shallots, minced, or 1 leek, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)

6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups cooked chicken (or turkey or rabbit)

1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh

 

1.  Prepare the biscuits according to the recipe directions, but do not bake. .  Place in the refrigerator.

2.  If you are using fresh root vegetables, place in a saucepan, cover with water, and add about 2 teaspoons fine sea salt.  Bring to a boil and boil until just tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.  If you are using fresh summer vegetables, steam over boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes.  If you are using frozen vegetables, remove from the freezer.

3.  Preheat the oven to 450°F.

4.  To make the creamed chicken, melt the fat in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the shallots and garlic, if using, and sauté until fragrant and limp, 3 to 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir until all the flour is wet.  Whisk in the broth and stir until thickened and smooth.  Stir in the chicken, vegetables, and thyme.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer.  Keep hot while you bake the biscuits.       

5.  Remove the biscuits from the refrigerator.  Bake according to the recipe directions for 15 to 18 minutes, until the biscuits are golden.

6.  To serve, split open one or two biscuits for each serving.  Ladle the chicken and vegetable mixture over the biscuits halves and serve immediately.

Adapted from The Fat Kitchen by Andrea Chesman©Andrea Chesman 2018. All rights Reserved