Lard is a wonderful cooking fat
Lard makes the best pie crusts. It makes the best tamales. It has a high smoke point and is the best all-purpose fat for frying (any recipe which tells you add extra virgin olive oil to a hot pan was written by someone who can't cook). Lard is high - yes high - in "healthy" monounsaturated fats. There is some evidence that lard from pasture-raised pigs is a very good source of vitamin D. I believe that evidence; please peruse the available research and decide for yourself. Whatever else, lard from natural, healthy, pasture-raised pigs does not contain "hydrogenated palm oil" (yum?), "mono and diglycerides" (which are trans-fatty acids but are for $ome rea$on allowed in foods labeled "no trans fats"), and does not contain "tert-butylhydroquinone" which is apparently not carcinogenic at anything close to allowable levels -- but still isn't a real food.
Cut the fat
I got pork fat directly from the butcher, frozen in long slices like thick chao mian and with the occasional pig hair still sticking to it, which I removed. After all, we're not just flopping turkeys here. I first cut up the strips of frozen fat with kitchen scissors. In the future I think I might then run the chunks of fat through a food processor to increase the surface area to mass ratio: more on that later. I cut up enough to fill a six quart crock pot about one third full. As you can see in the image, the pieces are mostly smaller than a cubic inch but are not uniform in size (more on that later.)
To produce almost colorless lard (which will appear white when solid) one is supposed to remove every non-white piece from the fat prior to rendering. I applaud everyone who has that kind of patience. Cutting up frozen pork fat with kitchen shears was where I chose to stop on the scale of "pains taken". The finished product from this batch is a creamy, milky color, with a very slight tint of golden yellow. That's partly because pasture-raised meats often have yellowish fat due to higher levels of the vitamin A. It's also because this lard is made from general back and belly fat, and is not the white "leaf lard" which comes from the softer fat around the kidneys.
Add water and slow cook for a long time
I added about a half cup of water to the slow cooker along with the pig fat. Even though cooking on relatively low heat, I added the water to make sure the fat would begin rendering before it began burning. This trick also works when frying bacon. I'm sure I could have rendered the lard in a heavy pot on the stove instead of in the slow cooker.
After quite a lot of fat had been rendered out the remaining pieces were looking decidedly browned. This doesn't bother me in particular, but I suspect that by increasing the surface area of the pork fat prior to cooking more of it would render out rather than remaining solid and frying. Pulsing the cut up pieces of fat through a food processor would make them smaller and thus increase the surface area. You can see the browned remaining pieces of fat in the photo; this is after already removing most of the rendered fat.
Strain the rendered fat into a container and let it cool
I ladled out as much as I could of the liquid rendered fat and strained it through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Again, I only aimed to remove the largest bits and pieces. Had I wanted to, I could have cut anything not pure white off the initial batch of fat, and I could have strained the rendered result through multiple layers of cheesecloth, perhaps several times, to produce a clearer end product. Pure lard is almost devoid of pork flavor: that's not what I was going for here, as this batch is just going to be for general cooking and I want the added flavor. It tastes like very, very, very mild bacon grease - smooth with just a hint of flavor.
Perhaps I'll strain the next batch a bit more and save it for baking. This batch filled a pint-sized mason jar with plenty left over. The finished product (before cooling) is in the photo at the right. The lard turns a milky color after it is cool; the image at the top of this page is actually quite a bit yellower than it looks in real life. Note that this lard is not solid at room temperature, unless your room temperature is really cold. Solid "lard" is hydrogenated and has other chemicals added. This is the all natural, real thing. And boy is it good stuff!
What are your favorite recipes using lard?