NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.
Animal fat gets a bad rap this days, mostly because we’re scared of those totally-dangerous saturated fats. The old fast food joints used to cook their fries in lard (rendered pork far) or tallow (rendered beef fat, also known as suet) until the low-fat craze of the 70s forced everyone to use vegetable shortening (and their lovely, cancer-causing trans fats). I’ve looked around for animal fats to use in cooking but all I’ve found is partially-hydrogenated lard, and I’ve come to learn that the hydrogenation process, while useful because it allows for the lard to be kept at room temperature, also has trans fats. While we’re still searching for pork fat to render lard, our local Whole Foods has been more than happy to set beef fat aside for us as they trim their cuts down for sale. Within a day they had 10 lbs of beef fat for us, which I rendered into tallow the other day.
There are two ways to render fat – “wet” or “dry”. Dry rendering is simply leaving fat pieces to cook on low in a stockpot or crockpot until the fat has liquified (leaving cracklings for later), but the fat can burn and leave a bad taste in the tallow. I decided to do a wet render (which basically involves boiling the fat pieces until the liquid fat has been extracted). I found the whole experience to be surprisingly easy.