Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Tallow

I'd heard about rendering beef fat (rendered fat is called tallow) to use for cooking. Every year we stock the freezer with a organic, grass-fed beef, and last year we decided to ask for the suet. Suet is thick, solid fat that surrounds the liver and kidneys of the animal. The suet stayed in the freezer for almost a year until I got brave enough to figure out what to do with it.
I don’t know why I waited so long to do this. Tallow is great for frying potatoes, for deep frying, and, my favorite use, pie crust. 
The problem was, I had no one to ask how to do it. The person to ask would have been Grandma, but she has been gone for many years. She had to have known how to render fat way before she ever went to the store for a can of crisco. So I googled.
The search landed on a question, among other entries. “What the heck is suet?”, someone asked. I already knew what suet was having bought little cages of it to feed wild birds. But the question led me to think about how knowledge of real food has tumbled off some cliff in favor of brand named packaged stuff. Anyway, the search turned up two methods of rendering suet. One consists of boiling it in water, then separating the water from the fat. Is this an older method designed for wood stoves with erratic heat? The second one said to heat it for considerable time on very low heat.
I chose the low heat version. Here’s how it went.
First, I get the brown paper bag of suet out of the freezer and let it sit for awhile to thaw. A few hours later I tear open the bag and find two big, solid slabs of whitish stuff.
I decide to do one slab today and tackle the other tomorrow, giving me a second chance to get it right if things don't go well the first time. Only one of the slabs will fit in the kettle anyway.
After finding in my google search that the stuff gums up food processors and meat grinders, two little facts I would have guessed anyway since it is solid, greasy fat, I opt for a chefs knife. As it turns out, suet cuts up very easily. I cut the slab into one- to two-inch cubes, and at the same time trimming away anything that is a color other than white.
Acting on advice to use a heavy pot, I choose a cast iron dutch oven. I set the burner on very, very low heat, exactly at the point where a speck lower is no heat at all, and then went off to do other things. 
When I return to check on progress, not expecting any due to the low heat setting, I’m surprised to find the heat has worked magic- under the cubes I see that liquid has started to seep out.
As I keep returning to check on it, I find the chunks becoming smaller. Eventually liquid predominates. Somewhat later the chunks seem to be gradually turning brownish. My research says these are cracklins. The cracklins continue to brown as I keep checking on the pot.
Warning! Do not be tempted at any point to raise the heat. I tried this just to let you know it should not be done. I thought that maybe turning up the heat would darken the cracklins sooner. Well, they didn’t get much browner but the entire pot of fat started smoking. That, you know is a sign of danger. Never let your fat smoke. With no further ado I slide the kettle onto an unheated burner and slap the lid on. And open windows and put on fans. It takes a long time to stop smoking. Hairy scary.
The second slab rendered the next day entirely on very, very low heat. This worked perfectly with no smoke. None. As things turn out it was a good idea to do this in two batches; a-a-ah, learning curves...!
To finish the process I take out the cracklings with a fine strainer. After the liquid cools down a little I pour it into jars. There was plenty of google advice saying to use wide mouth jars, so I did't mess with it and chose wide mouth canning jars. Both batches got me about three quarts. They say it lasts a year in the fridge. 
Tallow is solid, especially if you store it in the fridge. When you need some stick a butter knife into it and crack off a chunk. If you need a quantity for deep frying, take it out of the fridge a few hours ahead of time.
As for the the trimmings and the greasy cracklins, I scrapped those way back in the woods. -jmm

Fried Tortilla Tacos

Marsha doesn’t like tortillas heated in a dry skillet. She says they taste "raw." So I tried frying them in our homemade beef tallow, and she loved them! Here’s how I fried tortillas to make delicious crispy taco shells.
Place a cast iron pan on the stove, and with the burner set on medium add chunks of tallow to the pan. Keep adding until there is a half inch of melted fat. When the fat is hot, place a tortilla in the pan and fold it in half. Using tongs, turn it a few times until it just begins to get crisp. Remove it from the pan and place it on a paper towel to absorb excess fat. Add another tortilla to the pan and repeat.
Before frying the taco shells, I made a filling and salsa. For the filling I cooked some ground organic range fed beef, onions, green pepper, garlic and a Habanero pepper.
For the salsa, I diced a tomato, and chopped an onion and some garlic and fresh cilantro and placed them into a saucepan with a little cumin. After this simmered for about 15 minutes I chopped a dried Jalepeno and added it. Another 5 minutes of simmering and then I let it cool.
To assemble your taco put some filling in the shell, and sprinkle on some chopped lettuce and some grated cheese. Add a spoonful of salsa and enjoy! -G.H.