In America, we don’t think of lamb as lard animals, but they’re been raised for their rendered fat or tallow for a very long time, especially in areas where pork wasn’t efficient to raise, or was taboo. Pork may produce more cooking fat per animal, especially with lard breeds, but, sheep shouldn’t be overlooked as producers of healthy, natural, and most importantly, delicious cooking fat.
Nowdays, cooking fats are an afterthought, a bottle of something we can often pick up for cheap, and a means to an end when it comes to food. But, animal lard and tallow are natural products, and much more healthy (as millions of years of human consumption can attest to) than commercially produced vegetable oils and the like. A bonus of animal fats, unlike flavorless cookings oils, is that they’re also delicious, and a perfect compliment to a plate made with the meat the fat came from. Lamb makes a delicious tallow, and it’s easy, and relatively cheap to make at home.
The cooking fat from lamb and other ruminants is slightly different than pork, which is arguably the most popular cooking lard, but with a few simple adjustments, you can add healthy, delicious lamb and goat tallow to your recipes. The most noticeable difference, and the one most people will probably talk about first, is the solidity, or melting point. Rendered pork lard will be liquid at room temperature, but sheep and lamb tallow, as with beef, with be more firm, similar to coconut oil. Sheep tallow can be stored in the fridge, but, as it will be very firm under refrigeration, it should be brought to room temperature to make it easier to use.
Does Lamb and Goat Tallow/Fat Taste Waxy?
Along with the melting point of the lard, another thing to discuss for general cooking is the texture. If you’re familiar at all with the tallow of different animals, you might think: “Isn’t sheep tallow waxy?” or “Won’t it coat y0ur mouth like deer fat?”. The answer, is no, when used correctly. Of course, sheep fat used for cooking, when cooled completely, will be more firm than say, chicken or poultry fat, but it can be used to prepare many of the same things you make every day, especially things served very hot. The only places you may want to use, say, butter instead, would be with foods that will cool very quickly, like a hot bacon dressing, a plate of eggs, a crepe, or things that will be cooked and served at room temperature, instead of being served hot.
Chef’s Tips for Cooking with Lamb and Goat Tallow/Fat
Roasted potatoes or french fries cooked in lamb fat are every bit as delicious as beef fat, which was the standard in fast food restaurants in the past as much for it’s high smoke point as for it’s superior flavor to commercial, and often lab-created vegetable oil. Roasted vegetables of all shapes and sizes will be wonderful cooked with the fat of the lamb they’ll be served next to on the plate. Animals cooked with their own lard is a technique Chef Bergo loves to use with any meat, and, of course, starting a pan with some rendered lamb fat before adding some lamb chops to it is a natural way to cook them. There are some tricks to working with lamb tallow though, so if you want to make your own to cook with, we reccomend making a note of some Chef Bergo’s tips:
- Leave your lamb tallow in a covered glass jar at room temperature for easy portioning.
- Use your lamb tallow in hot dishes, such as roasting vegetables, or searing meat, especially lamb.
- Don’t use lamb tallow in dishes that will be cooked and served cold, as the fat will s0lidify.
This recipe is by chef Alan Bergo. A chef from Minnesota, Alan is a veteran of the culinary industry, former executive chef of acclaimed Lucia’s Restaurant, and the Salt Cellar. Founder of the website Forager Chef, he’s best known as a respected authority on Midwestern foraging. Learn more about Alan and his hunt for mushrooms, wild and obscure foods at Forager Chef.
Yield: about 5 cups of tallow, plus 2.5 cups of cracklings
- If it’s your first time rendering tallow, start with the slow cooker method below–it’s a gauranteed no-fail way to learn the process of rendering without the chance of scorching the tallow.
- Make sure the fat is chilled to make it easier to cut. Using a chef’s knife, or a medium-sized chopping knife, cut the fat into small cube-sized pieces, about 1×1 inch. Put the lamb fat and water into a heavy stock pot, then heat the oven to 300 and bake for 3-4 hours, or until the fat is rendered. Oven temperatures can vary, so check on the fat here and there, giving it a stir to ensure even cooking. Make sure to check on the fat at the 2.5-3 hour point, and if needed, turn down the heat.
- The chunks of lamb fat should not brown too much, and it’s better to cook the fat a little less than to over cook it which can give it a toasted flavor that, while not the end of the world, is not properly rendered tallow. When the fat is rendered, allow it to cool for 30 minutes to an hour before straining, as it’s very hot.
- Strain or fish out the cracklings and reserve. Pour the fat into glass jars while still pourable, but don’t seal them until cool. When cooled, the tallow should be pure white. Store one jar of tallow at room temperature to make it easier to spoon out and portion, and freeze or refrigerate the rest. The tallow will last a very long time under refrigeration.
Rendering Lamb or Goat Tallow in a Crockpot or Slow Cooker
Another method chef likes to use is rendering the fat in a crockpot or slow cooker. It definitely takes longer, but with fat rendering, that’s a good thing–low and slow is the way to go. This is especially useful if you want to render fat while you’re away, at work, or just doing things around the house, be warned though, slow cookers have a way of putting cooking scents in the air, so Chef’s girlfriend makes him use his slow cooker outside with an outdoor outlet. Rendering outside makes it so the house is scent-free, and as bonus, the lard always comes out perfectly.
- To render the lamb or goat tallow in a slow cooker, put the fat in the slow cooker and cook on low for 8-12 hours, breaking it up and stirring here and there to help it render. You may get a slightly lower yield, but the peace of mind is very nice.
- Chef Highly reccomends this method if it’s your first time rendering tallow.
Alternate Method / Quick Rendering Short-Cut
Maybe you don’t like cooking with cracklings, or, you want the lard to render faster. If that’s the case, there’s another trick Chef Bergo uses for large batches of lard, or when he needs lard quickly.
- Warm the fat per above, but, when its warm and the pieces of fat are soft, blend the mixture with a hand blender or transfer carefully to an upright blender in batches and puree until broken up into a semi-fine mixture.
- From here, render the fat as above, but, it will render much more quickly as the fat has been pureed.
- Clean the hand blender by buzzing some hot, soapy water with it.