An expression I've heard all my life is "too soon, old; too late, smart." Applying that to my own life has been as normal as breathing and I'm always tickled when it's SO obvious – after the fact. A perfect example is this winter's tallow rendering. Oh, yeah, 'too late, smart,' rang loud and clear in my kitchen and has only taken about 40 years (something, I never thought I'd live long enough to be able to say!). To save you the same fate, I will now share my discovery with you, although, I'm sure many others have already figured this out and only have to look forward to, 'too soon, old.'
It was time to render suet into tallow. In gathering the needed equipment, I was hit with a fantastic idea – why not use oven bags to keep everything neat and tidy! "Eureka," (an old-fashioned "duh!") I said, giving my forehead a palm slap. Working with large amounts of fats can be messy and, when heated into a hot oil, very dangerous. I decided to give it a try.
Here is an example of suet from the butcher. It is taken from around the organs of venison, cattle, or sheep, and not from around the muscles. It has a creamy texture, is a soft white, and will break apart, unlike muscle fat that looks bubbly and comes off in strips. Pork suet renders into lard and poultry suet into schmaltz. You can find out more in this posting in my primal post!
If you don't have direct access to suet, most meat managers are more than happy to save/order it for you. A word of warning: make sure you find out how many pounds the manager has to order for a basic order from the supplier so you don't end up having to buy forty pounds more than you need. In the cool months, you may find that your local market has it on hand because so many people like to mix wild bird seed in suet. It not only prevents the seed from spreading all over the yard, suet is the only fat birds can digest. They come in one-pound sealed packages and cost under a dollar. Even though you may be able to cook with fresh suet, if not rendered, it will spoil and get quite nasty. Rendering and straining out the connective tissue and small bits of meat leaves you with clear tallow that will harden and last for a very long time at room temperature. Freeze or keep it in the refrigerator in an airtight container and it can last for a couple of years.
The most important thing to remember is that you want to reduce suet to liquid, you do not want to cook it. You need to maintain a low temperature. If your oven won't let you bake lower than 190°F, try a temperature of 200°F and keep the door opened a crack. If you don't have a solar oven, go with the slow cooker. Depending on how much suet you are working with, rendering can take anywhere from 8 to 10 hours, which is way too much energy usage, for me, and is the perfect job for the solar oven. I had 15 pounds of suet and used three pots – one in the Global Sun Oven® and two in the SolarChief® and had them in the ovens by 9:15. This amount will be enough for the next two years, as I do very little deep frying and only use tallow for sautéing. One pound should render enough tallow to last you for a month, or two.
You'll want enough cheesecloth to completely enclose the suet. If you don't have access to high grade cheesecloth, use at least three layers of the kind you can get at a craft store or the market. Lay the cheesecloth over the pot and add the suet a piece at a time so that it will take the shape of the pan. Secure by knotting or using rubber bands/string so that it doesn't come apart in the pot.
Lift the cheesecloth bag out of the pot and gently place it down so that it doesn't lose its shape. Position an opened oven bag (DUH!) in the pot and then place the suet bag inside, being careful not to change its shape. Twist and tie the oven bag closed. As I wasn't the least bit worried about the bag exploding at such a low temperature, I did not add flour to coat the inside. Now, go read a book or clean out the attic!
When the suet is liquid and just starting to bubble around the edges, it's time to remove it from the oven and strain your tallow into its final container. This is when the 'too late, smart' comes into play. I used tin foil to line and raise the edges of standard-sized loaf pans. The next step requires total concentration to prevent oil from squirting all over your kitchen. Using pot holders or a kitchen towel around the tied section of the oven bag, raise the oven bag just enough to allow you to pierce the BOTTOM with a sharp knife or ice pick to let the oil flow into the same pot while automatically straining through the cheesecloth. Keep the holes as close to the bottom as possible. Hot arcing oil is not fun! This will take a while and you will need to make sure those little pointy side bag edges don't sneak out of the pot. When most of the oil is in the pot, begin rotating the oven bag as much as you can to squeeze out the rest without popping the bag. Don't worry. There'll be plenty of oil for you to use.
IMPORTANT! Discard the drained oven bag and any drippings into the trash, NOT YOUR SINK DRAIN. Tallow gets hard at room temperature and will stop up your drains so, please, don't think 'just a little bit' won't matter.
Slowly pour the tallow into the loaf pan and let it do its thing.
Before long, your tallow is ready for use and/or storage. There will be some oil that escaped and hardened between the foil and the pan. Have another large piece of foil ready and transfer the tallow loaf. Seal the first foil cover and then seal the second around the first. It's ready for your shelf!
The third pan of tallow was transferred into a standard fat pot (available in any housewares department) and fit perfectly. The top is not smooth because of the scrapings from the other pans. But, because even the smallest amount of tallow can make your recipes pop, I like to save every bit. Tallow will remain safe and hard at room temperature, but I prefer to keep mine in the refrigerator.
I can't believe how easy this job became by using the oven bag. (Another palm slap to the forehead!) You may wonder why it wasn't done directly in the loaf pans or fat pot. It can be, if you're rendering a pound at a time and you cut down the oven bag. You want to make sure that there is enough room above the actual suet that, when you lift your bag, the leftover suet is still below the top side edges. Why not pierce the bottom holes in the oven bag, to start? Because the oil will run up the sides and possibly overflow because of the bulk during rendering and make it very unwieldy to strain.
BUT, using the cheesecloth inside an oven bag has made tallow-making a snap! If you've checked out my first posting on rendering fats, you can see how many steps have been removed from the process. I hope you'll give it a try and share your results with us.