Freshly Rendered Lard & Pork Cracklings (Chicharrones)

Freshly Rendered Lard & Pork Cracklings (Chicharrones)

Julie Rawson of Many Hands Organic Farm learned this method of rendering lard from her Lithuanian neighbor many years ago. My five-plus-pound piece of fatback from her farm, once I had removed the skin, gave about 7 cups of lard and 5 cups of cracklings. Fat from other parts of the pig will give different amounts of lard and cracklings. You can also render the lard in your oven, but a deep pot on top of the stove makes less spatter and mess. This is a great side project for a raw and rainy day when you have other chores in the kitchen. The wonderful aroma it gives off is a warm hum, not so much porky as animal.

Pork fatback
Other spices, as desired

Take your piece of fatback and, with a large sharp knife, cut off and discard the skin, leaving as much fat as you can. Put the slab of fatback on a board and cut it into 1-inch squares or the size you wish. Put these chunks in a large heavy deep pot (with a cup of water if you want, but I didn’t find this necessary); over very low heat let the fat render, stirring from time to time to keep them from sticking to the bottom. Slowly, gradually, as the fa
t begins to melt and water in the lard evaporates, the cubes shrink in a growing puddle and sea of fat, eventually turning pale brown. This process must take time, two hours or more: do not raise the heat to speed it up or the cracklings will scorch and the lard turn acrid.

When the chunks have given up their fat, the meaty bits begin to appear as they cook down; the amount of meat depends on where your piece of fat comes from in the pig. With a slotted spoon put these morsels in a sieve lined with a double layer of cheesecloth set over a sturdy plastic or glass container, allowing the lard to drip through. Drain the cracklings on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. The lard darkens as the rendering continues (discard any dark lard). Cool the rendered lard in tightly covered containers, either plastic, glass or earthenware, and keep chilled. You can freeze it indefinitely.

To serve the cracklings as a snack, spread them on a shallow baking pan and reheat in a very low oven (200F) or, if you prefer, refry them in lard until they are browner and cracklier (watch closely not to burn!). Sprinkle them while warm with more salt, perhaps coarsely ground black pepper, paprika or hot chili, cumin or another powdered spice. In some Latin countries, bitter orange juice is the favored seasoning, with salt. Serve cracklings warm.

A few cracklings make a wonderful addition to cornbread, bean dishes and stews, season sparingly as you would with freshly cooked bacon bits.