Sorry for my absence yesterday, but I’ve just been incredibly busy. You may notice, however, that I did manage to get the March theme up, and since green is my absolutely favorite color, I’m quite happy with it.
But onward and forward. Today what I have isn’t so much a recipe as a procedure: how to make ghee.
Clarified butter and ghee are often used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Clarified butter is butter that is melted and has the water and milk solids removed (and thereby removing the lactose and casein), leaving only the butterfat behind. When prepared properly, clarified butter is more stable than standard butter containing water and milk solids – it has a higher smoking point and a longer shelf life. (Supposedly, clarified butter will last for up to a month without refrigeration if it is kept in an airtight container, although my personal experience shows that to not necessarily be true.)
Ghee has quite a long history, as it has been used in Indian cooking for many thousands of years, and can be fairly expensive in stores. It is merely clarified butter that is simmered for a period of time, allowing the milk solids to gently brown, giving the butterfat a slightly nutty taste and a lovely golden color – it is simply delicious. It is also incredibly easy to make yourself, although you must watch it carefully so the milk solids do not burn.
And since the lactose and casein are (mostly) removed, it doesn’t bother me as much as standard butter does, allowing me to enjoy it occasionally. Which makes Jan a very happy camper – I’ve missed butter more than I realized!
2 pounds of butter yields 1 quart of ghee; a serving is 1 tablespoon.
2 pounds unsalted butter
Melt the butter in a large, heavy, non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat and continue heating until foam begins to appear on the surface. You can skim the foam off, but it is not necessary.
Lower the heat slightly, and simmer the butter for 45 to 50 minutes, or until all of the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan and become brown, and the butterfat turns golden and has a slightly nutty fragrance.
Line a mesh strainer with a triple-layer of cheesecloth, or an unbleached coffee filter, and strain the butterfat into a clean, 1-quart glass jar, taking care to keep the milk solids out of the ghee.
Cool completely and cap tightly; the ghee will keep for many weeks if refrigerated.
Oh, I just heard half of my readers go “ewwwwww.” Well, just wait till you see the pictures.
Seriously, though – if you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know I’ve done quite a bit of research on both vegetable oils and animal fats, and have more or less eliminated the former (with a couple of exceptions) and embraced the latter in my diet.
I’d also like to take a moment and say that I love technology; I’m almost required to, since Beloved and I are in the technology business (our company develops software). It also allows me to do many of the things I love – like blog, take pictures with a digital camera, use a food processor, kiss my Dyson vacuum every time I open the front hall closet. But technology isn’t always our friend, and the ready availability of unhealthy industrial vegetable oils and the scarcity of quality animal fats (to say nothing of the USDA propaganda that the former is healthy and the latter will kill you before you can say “conjugated linoleic acid“) is ample proof of that.
That leaves those of us who choose to cook with and consume more (and quality) animal fats with the often problematic need to acquire these fats and then – minimally – process them. We have done this by saving our pennies and sourcing grass-fed and pastured animals from local farmers and asking for the fat from them (along with the bones and many of the organ meats).
Rendering lard and tallow was something that many our great-grandmothers were quite familiar with, and while it can be time-consuming – its certainly not something that can be rushed – it is not difficult at all. And while what I’m showing you here is lard, the process for tallow is not at all dissimilar.
So…ready? The method I use and am presenting is for “dry” rendering, meaning the fat is not melted in water and then skimmed from the surface.
First, you need some lard, preferably from a pastured hog. We had two, five pound bags in our freezer and rendered one.
See? That doesn’t look so bad, does it. You can’t just throw it in the pot like that, though, or it will take forever to render. Cut or slice it into smaller pieces; this is easier to do if it’s frozen.
Yes, I have a jewel of a husband – he is not afraid to jump right in and help, and does a lot of this himself.
Once it’s all diced, throw it in a large, heavy pot; I used my 6 quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven because it conducts heat so evenly and helps prevent scorching or burning.
The lard is then melted over very low heat – I use the tiny “simmer” burner on my gas stove at it’s lowest setting.
Dry rendering requires that you pay close attention to the process, but is relatively quicker than a wet render, so remember to keep an eye on it and stir it frequently.
Another benefit of cutting the fat into small pieces is that it helps separate the fat from the connective tissue, but some of it is going to remain trapped – it helps to “coax” it out. We use our potato masher to frequently press down on the bits to squeeze as much out as we can. We don’t want to waste any!
In fact, when it gets to this point, we’ll strain what has been rendered through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into another container, and return the connective tissue to the pot to squeeze out what we can. You can fry these bits up in the remaining lard, if you like – it’s makes delicious pork “cracklings.”
After we’ve coaxed all of the fat we can out of the connective tissue (which is most often just discarded), we strain it once more through the fine-meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth into clean Ball jars. This five pounds made five pints of soft, white tallow. One jar went into the refrigerator and the rest went into the freezer, where it will keep for a very long time…or so I’ve heard. We go through it pretty quickly.
So, there you have it – just one of the many kooky things we do on the weekend. Tomorrow, we’re rendering tallow – there will be sweet potato fries for dinner!
When I posted about the differences in cooking oils last week, I got a couple of questions about animal fats. Particularly poultry fats – I guess because everyone knows I cook frequently with butter, lard and tallow.
To be honest, I have very little experience cooking with poultry fats. We eat a fair amount of chicken, but I haven’t really stopped to consider how I might render the fat from one. Which is a shame, because it’s really delicious – I know that when I roast a chicken the drippings from the bottom of the pan, combined with the butter I typically place under the skin, spooned over the carved chicken on my plate is one of my favorite things to eat…it’s just so darn tasty. What’s even worse, I never cook duck or goose myself – I only order them in restaurants.
I’m really going to have to remedy that situation.
However, a little research goes a long way, so here is a quick breakdown of edible animal fats. You may be surprised at the fatty acid composition – there’s a lot less saturated fat than you might think, if you tend to worry about that sort of thing.
Poultry fat is rendered more or less like lard and tallow; take the fatty portions of the bird and slowly heat and melt them until pure, unadulterated liquid fat is produced. Duck and goose has more fat than chickens; the fat is necessary for the insulation and buoyancy of waterfowl. Potatoes, apples and pears are very good roasted in rendered poultry fat, and rubbing it on a a bird before roasting will produce a crispy, flavorful skin. Schmaltz, essential to Jewish cooking, is chicken fat rendered with onions. I’ve never made it myself, but I’ve eaten it and it is so delicious it made me want to cry. Poultry fats tend to be less shelf stable than lard or tallow, but keep well in the refrigerator after rendering for about two months.
Lard is pig fat, both rendered and unrendered. Leaf lard, the fat surrounding the kidneys and inside the loin, has little to no “pork” flavor – it is wonderful for baking, especially pie crusts, biscuits and pastries – but just about any of the fat on a pig will do; especially if it is wet-rendered (rendered in water and skimmed from the top), it will have little “pork” flavor. I usually dry render my lard – just melt it over very low heat and strain it – and it is still very mild. Use it the same way you’d use butter or ghee – stir fries, pan frying and sauteing. I’ve done a little deep fat frying with lard, but tallow is more suitable for that.
Lard is pretty stable; I keep mine in the refrigerator where it remains soft and can last for months. Whatever you do, don’t buy the cheap stuff in tubs you can find in the grocery stores – it’s hydrogenated and is full of trans fats.
Per 3 1/2 ounces, lard contains 39 grams saturated fat, 45 grams monounsaturated fat and 11 grams of polyunsaturated fat.
Tallow is simply rendered beef fat; suet is the raw, hard unrendered fat from cows, usually harvested from around the loin and kidneys of the animal. Tallow is higher in saturated fat than poultry fats or lard, solid at room temperature and turns hard when refrigerated. It is extremely stable, and the best fat for deep frying – before the use of hydrogenated oils became widespread, McDonald’s cooked their french fries in beef tallow; it’s what helped make them famous. Tallow if pretty mild in flavor, so you can use it in just about any recipe calling for fat; it’s great for pan frying and browning meats for stews, curries and chili.
Per 3 1/2 ounces, tallow contains 50 grams saturated fat, 42 grams monounsaturated fat and 4 grams polyunsaturated fat – grass-fed beef is slightly lower in saturated fat and has more omega 3 polyunsaturated fats than conventionally raised beef.
This was a fairly long way to go for a recipe, for which I apologize; however, it is a good segue into this particular recipe – sweet potato fries.
I don’t eat white potatoes any longer, but I eat sweet potatoes about once, sometimes twice, a week. I don’t make them very often, but sweet potato fries are probably my favorite way to eat them; I know that when I made some for Beloved late one night after he’d returned from a business trip, he practically inhaled them and asked for more. If I have a really hard-core junk food craving, I make these.
This is also an excellent way to make conventional french fries, as The Young One will attest.
Sweet Potato Fries
1 large sweet potato
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Melt enough beef tallow in a large, heavy, deep skillet (I use cast iron) to reach about halfway up the sides of the pan. Heat over high heat to 325º F. (If you don’t have a good frying thermometer, you should get one.)
While the oil is heating, peel the potatoes and cut them into uniform sticks. Place the cut potatoes in a bowl of ice water to keep them from turning brown.
Dry the potato sticks thoroughly and fry the potatoes in batches, to avoid overcrowding the pan and dropping the temperature of the cooking fat. Cook for about 3 minutes until they are soft but not browned. Remove the fries with a long-handled slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Raise the fat temperature up to 375 F. Return the potatoes to the fat in batches and cook a second time until golden and crispy. Drain on fresh paper towels; salt and serve immediately.