There you go, just minding your own business, doing what you've always done and -- POW! You find out that you're so old, you're new, again, or P-r-i-m-a-l, with a capital-P. What?! I thought primal had to do with dinosaurs and trying to figure out a way to use saber-toothed fangs in a decorator cave lamp. Wrong. Primal, in today's culinary world, has to do with the type of fats used for cooking. Animal fats, good for you; vegetable fats, maybe not as good for you as you thought. It's almost impossible to find beef tallow at the market, today, so you'll have to ask your butcher for some suet. See how I render suet, below. It has a very high tolerance for heat and makes divine fried foods.
For a humorous but sensible approach to the fatty acids issue and what our bodies really need to stay healthy, see what "Guy," a guest poster, has to say at Going Primal. And, keep in mind, he's talking about grass-fed beef. Grass, good; grain, bad. Well, fact is that I've been using animal fats for years and it never occurred to me that I was on the cutting-edge of a new way of thinking about the dangers of vegetable fats to our systems.
Tallow is rendered beef suet and was used up until the 1980s for all those delicious fried foods we used to enjoy so much. If you're wondering why fast foods taste so blah, nowadays, it's because they switched over to vegetable oil. And, yes, tallow is also used for soaps and candle-making, and -- are you ready? -- biofuels. These are but a few of the many commercial uses created by adding lye and other ingredients to the beef suet. Tallow for cooking is suet rendered without any additives. It stays solid at room temperature and will last for a very long time, as long as it's in a sealed container. Want to get started on being primal, visit Mark's Daily Apple site.
The Secret to My Grandmother's Flaky Pie Crust - Lard
My grandmother was noted for her flaky pie crusts at church suppers. Once I had my own kitchen and was free to experiment, I decided to test the difference between lard and Crisco in my pastries. Lard won, hands down. No contest. Lard is rendered from pig suet. Don't know why but it makes the flakiest pastries and is a lot lighter in taste than tallow, so it works well in most baking recipes. Did you know that lard and butter were the only cooking fats man used for centuries? Yup. So, you can use it whenever a solid fat is called for in a recipe. Lard doesn't keep well at room temperature and should be stored in the refrigerator. Commercial lard is available at the market in the same section as the vegetable oils but it does have preservatives and will keep at room temperature. If you can locate a local butcher, you can probably get a good quantity of suet at a very reasonable price. At Lehman's Country Life, you'll find wonderful instructions and pictures for making your own lard.
You Don't Have to be Jewish to Like Schmaltz
And, Schmaltz, a centuries' old favorite in Jewish households, is rendered poultry fat. It's very hard to get alot of fat from today's chickens sold at the market, so you can either save it up until it's time to render, or simply buy a jar of commercial schmaltz. A little difficult to find, but check out the Jewish section at Whole Foods or other Organic food markets. To make your own schmaltz, Sadie Salome's site has some great instructions, along with a wonderful Kugel Recipe.
Jennifer McLagan, author of "Fat. An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes," gives a wonderful interview in Salon Magazine explaining how important animal fats are to our systems.
Rendering Lard in the 21st Century
Although I do have pictures of lard rendering from my farm in Virginia that look like a scene from a Grandma Moses' painting, (hand-hammered iron pots hanging from tripods bubbling over open flames), my rendering has become very 21st Century. Whether using a crock pot, conventional oven, or solar oven, for the best lard results, the secret is to keep your heat very low and constant to melt the suet. You can cut it up into one-inch cubes, or not -- it's going to render.
This is suet ready for the solar oven.
This is suet in the crockpot.
Tallow after being in freezer for an hour.
Tallow from freezer and some put in plastic tub.
That's all you have to do, just two steps, and you've got the best cooking fats in the world. As for me, to paraphrase an old Barbara Mandrell song, "I was Primal, When Primal Wasn't Cool."