Sunday, 26 September 2010

Uses for Cracklings and Lard

 by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

Cracklings waiting to be strained off of melted lard.
"Cracklings (American) or crackling (British) is a crisp, deep fried food that may be made from various animals. Pork rind cracklings are popular in the American south. The skin of all kinds of poultry are used to make cracklings, including duck, chicken, goose and game birds. Some classic dishes, such as cassoulet depend on a top crust made crunchy by turning the skin of the duck used in the dish into a topping. Cracklings of all kinds are eaten plain, folded into breads and dumplings, and sprinkled atop dishes on their way to the table to add crunch. They are part of all traditional European cuisines, since the use of all parts of a butchered animal was nutritionally and economically important. They are called Gribenes and traditionally made from goose or chicken in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine."- from Wikipedia

So that's what they are. Our fat comes ground from our butcher so we're not going to get nice little squares to be made into chips. However, there are LOTS of tasty uses for cracklings here at the farm!

The crackling product coming from or off of the slow cooker, low heat fat rendering into lard, looks like underdone ground pork. It is less meaty and more fatty and smells a bit like bacon. It needs to be cooked more before using, but stores best at this fresh off the lard form.

So to use it, thaw it. Then fry it up in a cast iron skillet over low to medium heat until it is crispy (high temps you risk flash point and lots of smoke). At this point, depending on how I am going to use it, I season it with a garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne mix I use instead of plain salt. You can season it to taste many different ways, but the Cajun in me prefers cayenne. I've also uses thyme, salt, and cayenne with a bit of maple syrup. Look at what application you'll be putting them to, and season accordingly. I find that they have a slightly porky flavour unseasoned, but that it is rather bland.

So fried up and crisped and seasoned, what now?
  • I use in place of bacon bits on salad greens.
  • Mixed up with bread crumbs for casserole toppings. 
  • Green bean casserole, as an ingredient and with the fried onion bits that go on top.
  • I intend to also use in white gravy for biscuits and gravy, but have not yet.
  • As a pan liner for cornbread. If used like this really pay attention to seasoning, it will carry the bread.
  • Sprinkle on roasts just before serving. 
  • Add to brown gravies just before serving.
  • Mix with cream cheese or sour cream as a spread or dip.
So you see, it is more of a condiment, has a lot of flexibility, and use.

Now lard is just as easy. Any recipe that says use vegetable shortening (Crisco), substitute 1:1 for lard. Pretty easy that. You'll get flakier pie crusts, more tender cookies, lovely sweets. 

Other uses:
  • Greasing pans for pancakes and egg or fish frying, for cakes and breads.
  • Slice open lean roasts and tuck in a bit of lard. Makes for really tender meat. Especially useful for dry lean venison roasts. 
  • Oven fried potatoes, use instead of whatever oil you'd use. We used to use olive or peanut oil.
  • Fried chicken. Pan fried or deep fried. Results in a really crisp and delicious chicken breast. 
  • Dutch oven popcorn. 2 Tablespoons of lard, 1 teaspoon of salt, cover the bottom of the oven with kernels, cover and heat. When popping is done, remove from heat.  So incredibly good (can also be made with bacon grease, btw). 
  • Fried with plantains and served with rice
  • Added to Asian style stir fry and fried rice (seasoned with soy sauce)
Last weekend I made plain old sugar cookies with lard instead of shortening as a taste test sample at a local farm open house. I used the most basic sugar cookie recipe I could find, no added flavours like cinnamon or vanilla. I subbed the lard and I switched out the called for corn syrup with maple syrup. These cookies were good. Not fabulous, but lots of people comment on the fact that they'd thought there would be a porky flavour from the lard and they just tasted like sugar cookies. That is exactly why I made them. There was even an older baby who'd never had a cookie before, and his mom gave him my cookie as his first! That was really flattering.

5 years ago my husband brought home lard for pie making and was super excited to use it. I was totally grossed out. At that point I still thought I had to microwave my food to make it safe to eat, even fresh out of the oven food would get zapped for 30 seconds. How far I've come that I now raise and render my own lard. Food for thought, I guess.

Are there any uses I have left out? What do you or would you use lard and cracklings for?