I know quite a few people who really treasure duck or goose fat. Around Christmas time they lay out a rather large sum for a very small tin of it to cook their potatoes in on the big day. The rest of the year is spent saving up and planning their next annual extravagance.
Lard however is often ignored or perhaps just forgotten. Lard is nothing more sinister than rendered pork fat. Don't get it confused with dripping, which is rendered beef fat (also good stuff). Lard is very smooth when its solid and is great to work with in pastry situations. It rubs into flour so easily. It can be used in sweet and savoury applications, Lardy cake and tortillas for instance.
It also makes damn fine roast potatoes. On a par with potatoes roasted in duck or goose fat in my opinion, and a hell of a lot cheaper!
When you're making a lot of sausages you often wind up with spare back fat. I usually just render it in a pot with a little water and simmer it slowly for a few hours. This is a fine technique, but it makes a mess of the pot and produces a strong (although delicious) aroma that permeates the whole house.
Recently I thought it was time to try some strategies I read about in Modernist Cuisine, Nathan Myhrvold's incredibly flash 5 volume masterwork.
One being sous vide, the other pressure cooking it in preserving jars.
The sous vide technique involves vacuum sealing it in a bag and then cooking it at 88 degrees Celsius for 3-4 hours. This turned out a decent clear product with a pure flavour, but not a high yield. It's very tidy however. The only mess is your straining setup.
The pressure cooking technique involves packing your back fat into preserving jars with .4% of the fat's weight added in bicarbonate of soda. Place the jars in a pressure cooker with water up to about half way and pressure cook for 4 hours.
What came out of that cooker really surprised me. Extremely clear liquid fat with a really high yield. It was still bubbling in the jars at room temperature for 2 hours! I didn't want to mess with the jars while they cooled partially out of fear they would explode and because I knew the lids would be a bitch to get off while hot.
When cool I took off the lids, reheated them in water again to melt the now solid fat and then strained them. The fat was almost as clear as water.
In conclusion I would say both methods were great. Superior to dry rendering in every respect. My favourite would have to be the pressure cooker though. Bigger yield. Clear result. That'll be my new standard technique.
I think I'm gonna need to make some fried chicken now. I guess that'll be my next post!