Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How to render ham fat, to save for use in cooking

At the very end of using a baked ham, I always have pieces and chunks of fat. Rather than throw these chunks out, I render the fat, to use in cooking later.

Rendering fat is an old-fashioned method for preparing solid fat for ease of use in cooking, by separating the fat from any other matter in the fat. Lard, for example, is a rendered fat. And the happy by-product of rendering pork fat is the cracklings, small bits of crunchy, tasty, roasted fat, sometimes with a bit of meat in them.

When you render ham fat, those bits of fat (the cracklings), with maybe some meat, taste a lot like, and have the texture of, bacon bits. The rendered fat, itself, tastes like ham, or bacon, and I use it in cooking the same way I would use saved bacon fat.

To render fat:

As you are using a baked ham, just set aside all of the fatty bits and chunks that you don't want to consume, as is. On both the shank and butt portions there's usually a substantial swath of fat across part of the exterior of the ham. I go ahead and bake the ham with the fat on, scoring well to render fat while baking. But not all of the fat will render, in such a large swath, without severely overcooking your ham.

initial batch of fat dices, rendering

So, with all of those leftover chunks of fat trimmed and saved, cut the pieces that look to only be fat (no meat attached) into 1/4 to 1/2-inch dices.These very fatty pieces will give you enough rendered fat, to thoroughly coat the remaining dices, in just a few minutes, to allow your main batch to render evenly.

To start -- Place about 1/2 cup of fat dices into a heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven (depending on amount of ham fat to render, more fat = bigger pot).

Heat over low, and allow fat to render slowly. Stir occasionally. On my gas stove top, I use a gas mark 2 out of 1 through 5.

cracklings removed to sieve over a small bowl

When there's a nice pool of rendered fat, and this first batch is done, use a slotted spoon to scoop these cracklings out of the pot and into a sieve over a dish to catch fat drippings. Now add the remaining dices of fat, again about 1/4 to 1/2-inch dice, to the rendered fat.  (I prefer to leave all my dices about 1/4-inch, as I just like the smaller "bits" to add to salads or to top soups.) If you have any especially meaty bits, add those to the rendering about half-way through, so they don't burn. Continue to render the fat slowly, stirring from time to time.

some of the meatier dices I add about halfway through cooking main batch

At the very end, remove the cracklings to a strainer/sieve or place into a piece of loosely woven cheesecloth. I put mine into a sieve with the first batch. Use the back of a spoon to press out the fat, into the dish below. Alternatively, put the cracklings into a cheesecloth spread over a dish, then squeeze out the liquified fat into the dish, to save.

pressing the extra fat out of the cracklings, to save for cooking

The liquid fat is your rendered fat, to be used in cooking, like saved bacon fat.

The cracklings can be used in cornbread, egg salad, or to top soup, salad or casseroles. Store in the fridge, or if not using within a day or two, freeze. Store rendered fat in the refrigerator or freezer to use in cooking.

I used this batch of cracklings to top garbanzo bean and veggie soup,
tastes like bacon bits -- yum!
Rendering the fat from your ham is a way to make use of every last scrap from your ham. Hams are expensive, so why not make use of every last bit. Those chunks of fat don't need to be tossed out, but can be salvaged for cooking use.

I realize that this is the "off-season" for baking whole and half hams. I just thought I'd post it now, while I have pictures to show you. I'll try to repost or link to this post, in fall, in case you need a reminder.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for explaining how to do this! I have seen you mention using ham/turkey/chicken fat and wasn't exactly sure how you were getting clean, rendered fat. I have two hams in the freezer that I need to bake in the next couple of months and this will be helpful.

    Do you freeze in a jar or do you freeze in smaller cubes first? I have some garlic in olive oil in the freezer and it's a real bear to get cooking sized portions out of the jar; wondered if you had the same experience freezing other fats.

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    1. Hi Laura,
      Oh good! I'm glad this could help you.
      Most of the time, I am able to pour off fat from roasting meat, directly into a container to store in the freezer. But, rendering works for those chunks of fat, that are still solid after roasting.

      To use the fat -- frozen fat is usually brittle enough that if I stick a table knife into it, while frozen, a chunk will break off. I freeze in shallow containers, as it breaks off more readily. I'd say the fat is about 1-inch at the most, in thickness, sometimes only about 1/2-inch. We have several shallow plastic containers (like what hummus sometimes come packed in at the supermarket). These are just the right size for freezing fat, for us, nice and shallow.

      And sometimes, like with the rendered ham fat last week, I just kept the fat in the fridge in a custard cup, and made sure to use it within the week.

      Your garlic in olive oil might be too thick to get a chunk broken off easily. You could allow it to thaw enough to spread thin, on a flat baking sheet, lined with plastic wrap. Refreeze, then score into cooking-sized portions, and fold the plastic wrap over the whole sheet of oil/garlic, to store in the freezer. When you need some, just break off at the score line.

      Hope this helps!

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    2. Thanks! I will have to make sure I have something shallow enough for the fat. I think you are correct about the garlic and olive oil; honestly I had been planning on just keeping it in a jar in the fridge but then I came across a few (somewhat alarmist) articles about botulism in these kinds of concoctions and decided to freeze just to be on the safe side. The jar is narrow and deep. I will try thawing and re freezing in a thinner layer. I have some tiny cocktail ice cube trays that I never use and they might be good for this.

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    3. Hi Laura,
      Yeah, I've read the same stuff about home-preserved garlic in oil. Better to be safe than sick. I think you have a good plan with the cocktail cube ice tray.

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  2. We always had "bacon" and eggs on Saturday evenings for dinner when I was a child. Only the " bacon" was the crispy bits as you describe.

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    1. Hi Teresa,
      Oooh, I was thinking cracklings would be good filling for an omelet, too. Your "bacon" and eggs sounds like it was probably delicious.

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  3. I published my previous comment using Google. When I tried using my name ( Teresa) on my PC and publishing that way my PC cannot pull up the photos to " prove I am not a robot". Usually I do not have this problem on my ipad( the pictures appear). This time I hit the wrong tab ( instead of name I hit Google account) and it let me sign in. Not sure if others have had problems with the photos appearing. I usually forget my google password so.. That's why I was posting undermy name.

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    1. Hmmm, these blogging platforms are free,, but they do have their issues from time to time. Hopefully it was a glitch associated with this one page, and everything will be back to normal tomorrow.

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  4. This is a timely post. While we are sweltering under heat and humidity, finding neighbors eating/ordering out, picking up take out, buying the typical burgers an grilling foods, I am eyeing sales on fzn turkey breasts @89/lb (got 2 for freezer) and hams this week for 99 (will grab 2 as well). It's hot but I'm planning for Fall.

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    1. Hi Carol,
      I saw you mentioned on your blog the sales on what we think of as fall meats. Thanks for the heads- up on that. I'll be keeping my eyes open for similar sales, here.

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    2. Correction: I paid 69/lb for shank, 79/lb butt hams today. I now have 4 fzn hams. Too good of a deal to pass up.

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  5. I have never rendered fat or even thought about rendering fat before, so this was interesting.

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    1. Hi live and learn,
      I think rendering fat is one of those kitchen-y things that has gone by the wayside in the last 100 years. For the most part, we have no need to do this. Meat is often well-trimmed when we buy it, so no fat to render. But it always bothered me with hams, that large swath of fat on the outside. I hated to waste it, and I'm not one to eat large chunks of fat (unless they're crispy like bacon). This is a good solution for me.

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  6. Thank you so much for these ideas. I will be using mine today with my Thanksgiving Dinner to make loaded potatoes and adding them in my collard greens as well. Happy �� Day! ��

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    1. Oh yum! Those loaded potatoes and collards sound delicious!
      Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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  7. Today is not my "smart" day. The instructions on my ham was to remove excess fat before baking...so-o-o-o-o....I cut quite a bit off along with most of the skin(?)thinking it could be used to make pork rinds or chitterlings(?) whatever those are! Does this mean I've ruined my ham??? It was a precooked shank!

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    1. You're not alone, yraddicgt, I did something like this with my first ever ham. Your ham is probably fine. Cover it with foil for most of the baking. Then for about the last 20-30 minutes, uncover and allow the outside to brown, lightly.
      Are you thinking of cracklings? The browned bits of ham fat that are used like bacon bits? you can still do that with your reserved ham fat. just dice into small pieces and brown, as directed above.
      I'm sure your ham with be delicious.

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    2. Thank you Lili...ham was great and I will cook up the fat for the cracklings and "try" the skin for pork rinds!

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    3. So glad for you, yraddicgt!

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