The Render

Render [ren-der]

verb (used with object)

1. to cause to be or become; make

2. to transmit to another

3. in other words, an exercise in patience and pork fat

Some might suggest, that in my epicurean adventures, I tend to bite off more than I can chew. My plans oft too grandiose, while excellent in theory, prove impossible in practice and execution. However, some may also tend to agree that at the end of it all, my table is always set and ringed with good friends while the tinkling of the Reidels signal an accomplishment of some kind.

Education by experience is one of my favorite traits of our friends. We very often decide on a path and then with little or no preparation, assuming success (or at worst, anticipating laughter later over reminisced follies), we optimistically embark. That is how we chose to handle the lard. This is not a recipe, but instead maybe a ‘redux’; one evening when we relinquished timorous tendencies, and entered into something new and uncharted, full boar!       

Thawed and already leaving a greasy stain on my cutting board (and my sweater) 9 lbs of skin on back fat lay before us.

This is where you need to pull out that fancy Japanese knife you got as a gift that one celebratory affair. Trust me, it is time for her, it’s right, and you may never want another after.

Begin by removing any lingering meat on the fat, anything venous in appearance, creating a clean canvas if you will. Steel will slide deftly through the fat, as well as fingers due to the slippery nature of our subject, so be mindful. Chop the fat into manageable sections. We chose handy kitchen shears for this action. In hindsight, the smaller, the better for your pan (and any hankering you have to sleep that evening).

Confession: I have never eaten chicharrones, pork rinds, cracklins’, or whatever your preferred moniker. Rendering will isolate these crispy cuts, but wander on if you’re searching for such mentions here; we didn’t go there. Judge if you must, I am not an enthusiast. It’s not an experience I feel I need to have at this point. To me, it’s like that one pristine isle languishing in a perfect azure sea or a magnificent ancient monument, the kind seen frequently in travel magazines. Once arrived, you feel strangely, sadly, like you’ve already been there. Awe does not overwhelm you, as anticipated the day you find yourself there. Instead perhaps you find yourself wishing you had left the perfect memory of it in the glossy 9 by 11’s. This is how I feel about pork skin: my passport will remain ensconced in its drawer on this particular detour.

Alright, let’s go back.

Pig layered in the pot, add water to almost cover and adjust your flame to just above low.

Begin the melt, aiming for the sweet spot: that lovely lull when the rainbow oil slick of fat starts to form in your pork bath and equilibrium falters, tipping the scales towards the land of the lipid!

Enter patience.

Defined here, as we discovered:               

3 parts bourbon, 1 part Antica, 2 shakes grapefruit bitters, one REAL maraschino cherry, rocks. The cherry must be the color of pig heart, not Hallmark heart hue. Buy them, thank us later. (I’m not even going to mention the size of your ice cubes, we’ll discuss it later. One thing at a time, I know, change is hard).

Libate and stir your render. Do it every thirty (the latter, not the former or I make no promises).

Ladle off excess melted lard, strain it through cheesecloth into a clean bowl or double up some paper towels, either works well. Then add a little water back to your pot and continue on your journey.

The trick is not to allow sticking of any sort to the bottom of the pot. This causes discoloration of your lard, they say: and thus a less prized, somewhat compromised quality of resulting fat, they warn.

Well, I am here to report that between 1 and 3 am, on a school night, sticking did occur and the world is still alright! Just go back and reread that part where we told you we had 9, capital N, elll bees of fattage to render. Now let me tell you something new we discovered that night:

There’s something special that happens between those single digit hours on a weeknight, those hours intended for sleep. If you’re awake, maybe you know. There’s a stillness that sets in, a quiet calm that invades. It makes the visible dirt on the streets less apparent and the dirt in our lives somehow more manageable. We found it that night. It happened for us not on the street, but in the serenity that came at the stove. Brown bits, bourbon and back fat came together in those pre-dawn pork hours to form a beautiful snowy white lard, sating those handy, salvaged mason jars and maybe, in some way our souls.

Go forth now, it’s safe, sleep. Someday soon, you will render.

The Pickup

As it turns out, a chest freezer takes about four hours to cool down, which was just enough time for us to pick up the pig, formerly known as Weasel. So yesterday, after our respective morning errands, Sarah, Connor, Donnie and I jumped in the Subaru with a large catering cooler in the back and headed up to Napa. We of course stopped at Oxbow market for lunch, because really, who wants to visit a bunch of carcasses on an empty stomach?

Barry the butcher wasn’t in at Brown’s Valley Market, but the strapping young butcher who helped us out let us take a quick tour of the back. There were two other meat cutters carving up large hunks of beef and slicing bacon. Our pig parts came in three cardboard boxes. We pulled the car around back to the loading door to quickly and unceremoniously cram Weasel into the cooler while avoiding a slew of vulturous yellow jackets that were buzzing around the alley. She fit perfectly.

All of the meat was carefully vacuum sealed in plastic with a label denoting the cut. Of course we wanted to know the final weight of our pig bits, so we put Connor on a bathroom scale with a milk crate and took stock:






We are very much looking forward to our first pig meal: Carnitas on September 17. In the meantime, a sneak preview at Sunday brunch this morning confirmed that Weasel is indeed a tasty pig. Now we are down to five packs of bacon and may need a security system for the freezer, cause that stuff is like gold!