animal fats

Rendering Tallow

animal-beef-cattle-brown-1576738.jpg

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.

Better Latkes

The perfect latke is crisp, not greasy, is golden brown on the outside and snowy white inside.

The perfect latke is crisp, not greasy, is golden brown on the outside and snowy white inside.

 

            Bring out the latkes: Hanukah is coming.  For most people, said latkes, grayish, greasy pancakes slathered with sour cream and applesauce are beloved just because they remind them of home.  But what if your latkes could be brown on the outside, snowy white on the inside, and not at all greasy?  I'm here to help you make your latkes (potato pancakes to non-Jews) perfect.                                                         

            The Jewish holiday of Hanukah—the Jewish festival of lights—runs from December 12 to December 20 this year.  It is a holiday that celebrates a miracle after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem when the flame of the eternal lamp burned for eight days until more oil could arrive, even though there was only enough oil in the lamp for one day.  The holiday is traditional celebrated with candle lighting and eating fried foods.

            Back in the old country, this was the time of year when a goose would be slaughtered to provide the cooking oil.  Geese were the poultry of choice in Eastern Europe, prized for their down, rich meat, and copious amounts of fat.  They were also prized because they could thrive on forage and didn't need shelter from the cold weather.  It was hoped that the goose fat would last long enough to make matzoh balls for the Passover celebration in the spring.  Christian neighbors slaughtered their pigs at the same time, and rendered lard for frying their potato pancakes.

            These days most Americans fry their potato pancakes in vegetable oil, even though chicken fat (schmaltz) or lard is readily available.  This recipe change happened sometime in the 1900s when polyunsaturated vegetable seed oils were touted as "heart healthy."  This lie is more than adequately exposed by Nina Teicholz in The Big Fat Surprise, among others. 

            So scratch the idea that vegetable seed oil frying is better for you than frying in an animal fat.  Beyond the health aspects, vegetable oil seeps into the pancakes in a way that an animal fat does not.  This year, fry your potato pancakes in any rendered animal fat you can get your hands on.  (You can find information on how to render fat in my book The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How or at a blog post I wrote for Mother Earth News: https://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/goose-fat-is-pure-gold-zbcz1612).

            Making the interior of the latke snowy white is as simple as could be.  Grate the potatoes in a food processor, or by hand on a box grater.  Put the grated potatoes in a bowl of acidulated water (1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 4 cups water) and swish it around to wash away the starch, which is what browns.  Drain well.

Swish the potatoes in a bowl of acidulated water and drain well.

Swish the potatoes in a bowl of acidulated water and drain well.

 

            Then take half the potatoes, return them to the food processor, pulse until mostly pureed, and return to the potatoes.  This step ensures you get the denser filling of a potato pancake, not the lacy texture of potatoes rosti.  Add a grated onion (very important!) and eggs to bind. Then fry the potato pancakes in about 1/2 inch of rendered fat.

For the best texture, half the potatoes are coarsely grated, half are almost pureed.

For the best texture, half the potatoes are coarsely grated, half are almost pureed.

            Perfect latkes!  Here's my recipe, adapted slightly from Serving Up the Harvest.

   This year I fried in rendered chicken fat, but any animal fat yields great results!

 

This year I fried in rendered chicken fat, but any animal fat yields great results!

Potato Latkes

Serves 4 to 6

            Latkes are often mistreated in the kitchen, and the result is a greasy pancake, gray on the inside, soggy throughout.  The perfect latke is crisp on the outside, tender and snowy white on the inside.  There are a few extra steps in my recipe as part of my never-ending quest to get this dish right.

3 pounds russet or baking potatoes, peeled

1 large onion

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Any rendered animal fat, for frying

Applesauce and sour cream, to serve

 

            1.  Coarsely grate the potatoes by hand or in a food processor.

            2.  Transfer the potato mixture to a large bowl filled with acidulated water (1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 4 cups water).  Swish around with your hands for 1 minute.  Pour into a strainer and drain well.  Place a clean kitchen towel on the counter.  Dump the potatoes onto the towel and pat dry.  This step will keep the potatoes from turning pink, then gray as they are exposed to air.

            3.  In the food processor, grate the onion.  Replace the grating blade with the regular steel blade and pulse the half the potato mixture until finely chopped but not pureed.

            4.  Transfer the potato mixture and the grated potatoes to a large mixing bowl and add the eggs, salt, and pepper, mix well.

            5.  Preheat the oven to 300° F.

            6.  Heat 1 inch of any animal fat in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Drop the potato mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, into the pan and fry until golden on the bottom, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.  Turn and fry on the other side, about 1 1/2 minutes. Drain on wire racks.

            7.  Keep the latkes warm in the oven while cooking the remaining batter, but serve as soon as possible.  Pass the applesauce and sour cream at the table.