Every once in awhile I find myself doing something which, if you’d told me twenty years ago I’d be doing, I would have thought you had gone off the deep end. I think this is in part because God has a sense of humor.
Then I got convicted on this whole “use the whole animal responsibly” method of eating, in addition to the “eat sustainably-raised foods” ethic, plus the ever present “food nerd” obsession, and I found that previously unheard of culinary events happen in my kitchen all the time.
Which leads me to tallow. I found out awhile back that food fried in beef fat tastes about a million times better than food fried in just about anything else. Now, let me preface this by saying, we don’t eat a lot of fried foods. We don’t eat out much, and when we do, it’s typically not burgers-and-fries. We fry stuff at home about once a quarter, if that. So if I’m going to fry something, it had better be worth it.
It’s not like you can meander down to the grocery store and buy good tallow. You can’t even buy good lard – the stuff that is on the shelf is so loaded with chemicals that it tastes horrific. I don’t even know of a local butcher shop that sells rendered fat. Plus, we purchase a half a steer every year anyway, and the fat from that was previously just going to waste. All of this led me to figure out how to render my own beef fat.
This year, I asked the butcher doing our half-a-steer to set aside for me all of the suet – raw fat carved off our meat – that was fit for cooking with. This arrived, frozen, in plastic bags.
Now, I know you’re supposed to cut up fat before you render it, and trim off all of the meat. I’m aware that cutting it up into little pieces makes it render faster. But I didn’t do it this year, because (a) I wasn’t going anywhere all day and could wait a few extra hours, and (b) it was still frozen, and I needed to get it DONE. Plus – while it looks like there was a lot of meat there, it was all about two molecules wide and would not have given me enough to make anything. The final factor in my deciding not to dice everything up is that we have a whole flock of hens eager to handle anything that got strained out at the end, so nothing would really go to waste.
Plus, I figure that a little meat helps give the final tallow more flavor, kind of like the meat on bacon adds a lot of flavor to the bacon grease. You save your bacon drippings, right? Around here, they are liquid gold. I can’t “add a little butter” for flavoring because of the Moose’s dairy allergy, and many times bacon drippings are a great substitute.
Besides, as any Southern cook knows, all the really good recipes start out with, “Fry up a half pound of bacon. Set aside meat for another use. In bacon grease, fry…”
I poured a quart of water and a teaspoon of baking soda in the bottom of the turkey roaster, (to keep things from scorching before anything rendered, and because baking soda – according to Shannon Hayes in Grassfed Gourmet – helps pull out impurities), and loaded in the fat pieces. The roaster was set to about 225°, the lid tightly put on, and we were off.
After a few hours, the fat was starting to soften up and some was rendered, but it certainly wasn’t done yet. Yes, it looks mildly disturbing. Truly great gastronomical pursuits are not for the faint of heart.
Fast forward about six hours, and I had this:
Now, obviously, there was quite a bit more that could render out if everything was chopped up fine. I decided against it, because (a) I was going to have way more tallow than I needed anyway, and (b) it was midnight.
Mr. Caffeinated volunteered to strain off the rendered fat into a big pot with about 4″ of water in the bottom. (Another recommendation from Grassfed Gourmet.)
We were left with quite a few “cracklin’s”, as they’re called in the South.
These I tossed with chicken feed pellets, sunflower seeds, and oyster shell for the hens. There was plenty of fat still left in the cracklin’s to glue all of that together in a sort of homemade “seed block” for the birds. They are mighty happy with this treat, especially in this cold, rainy weather we’re having. I’ll have to take pictures of that for another post.
The pot of rendered fat floating on cold water was covered with foil and hauled out to the garage fridge for the night. The next day, all the fat had hardened into a disk on top of the water.
There were a few bits of stuff still sticking to the bottom of the fat. There wasn’t any stuff suspended in the fat; just on the bottom. I suspect that pouring it into a pot of water helps these bits settle to the bottom of the fat while it is cooling.
I shaved off all the stuff with a bench scraper. Those scraps also went to the birds. They are currently very pleased with me.
This left me with a beautiful big disc of tallow to deal with. The sides got a bit chewed up coming across the inside handle rivets on the way out of the pot.
Tallow is about the consistency of wax when it comes out of the fridge. Kind of a good reminder that, while it makes food fried in it taste fabulous, it’s still not something we ought to indulge in constantly. I know it’s still healthier than a lot of fats, given that it came from an organically raised, grass-fed, custom-processed animal… but still. Moderation in all things.
I sealed some of it in vacuum bags for the freezer, and put some in ziplocks for next week’s annual Wing Night (my impetus for getting this done now), and ran all the equipment involved through the dishwasher because everything gets very greasy during this process.
Next time, I do think I’ll cut the fat pieces up at least a bit. I don’t see a need to run them through a meat grinder, like many people do – that does speed up the process and gives more fat, but my hens would probably accuse me of being greedy and not sharing. I’ll probably aim for 2-3″ pieces. I’ll also try to get the whole thing going in the roaster before noon, because midnight is awfully late for pouring hot fat through a strainer.
Why post on the subject when there are plenty of blogs out there showing a more practiced and developed process? To quote Joel Salatin – “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.” The idea here being: I ended up with a perfectly useable product, (and happy hens, don’t forget!), without having a completely refined process honed by dozens of years of experience.
Lastly – you don’t have to have a steer custom-butchered in order to get suet for making tallow. Call up your local butcher shop (find the one that all the hunters take their deer to) and ask them if you can order a few pounds of beef fat trimmings for making your own; I haven’t ever been disappointed. Sometimes it takes a day or a week for them to have it; it depends on what they’re working on, so be flexible.
Did you know that McDonald’s used to fry their French fries in beef tallow? It’s why their fries used to taste so good before they switched to vegetable oil in 1983. They still added beef flavoring to their fries and hashbrowns for years – they still might. By rendering my own tallow, I can still indulge – occasionally – in the most awesome fried foods… and since this fat came from an animal I’d already paid for, I don’t have to spend more money on oil for the fryer. When you purchase your meat directly from the farm, you generally pay for the fat with the meat, even if you never ask the butcher to package it up for you.
Now I’m off to thaw out some soup bones to make broth.
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