Alinea at Home Extra: Rendering Beef Fat
Deep breath.... stretch fingers.... aaaaand, go.
One of the elements in the upcoming Bison, cranberry, persimmon, juniper dish is to use rendered beef fat as part of the sous vide process. Now, I know you can buy rendered beef fat (or tallow, as it's also called) in cute little jars for $8 or $9 in grocery stores, but I needed a kick in the ass to get myself back into the kitchen, so I decided to make my own.
I mean, really: if I can't dice some beef fat, add water, and let the fat melt, I should just quit cooking altogether and crawl into a cave.
I wanted beef fat that I knew had been handled well in a butchering environment, and the closest butcher-ish place to me is Max's Kosher Market in Wheaton, Maryland. They do all their butchering on-site, and have really good product, so I knew I'd be all set.
What I didn't expect is that they wouldn't charge me for the fat. Could this be a sign that my bad mojo is turning around? I told them I just needed a pound or so, and they wrapped it up nicely for me and sent me on my merry way. Thanks, guys!
I'd never rendered my own beef fat before (I'd never needed to use it to cook anything), but I remembered reading Lisa Fain's pork fat rendering post on her blog, Homesick Texan, so I drew from that and got started.
Here's the beef fat:
I cut those two slabs into a 1/2"-ish dice. Note -- cutting through fat is easier than it might seem. It's not slippery or gooey or gross at it. In fact, it felt like cutting through cold butter. You don't have to do exactly a 1/2" dice. Anything 1" or smaller will work. Just try to keep them all relatively the same size. More importantly, there should be no meat at all on these pieces. Meat will leech blood and other impurities into the fat as it renders, then it'll burn, and you'll end up with nasty bits you don't want, and that are impossible hard to strain out.
I put the fat cubes into a heavy pan (I'm using a Le Creuset here, though I'm pretty sure any heavy pan will work -- cast-iron enamel is preferred, though):
Then, I added a bit of water. I didn't measure it precisely as I poured, but in eyeballing it, I'd say there's maybe a cup of water (for a little over a pound of diced fat). But, since fat floats in water, it looks like there's more water than there really is. My advice -- just put the fat in, and pour some water in until it barely surrounds the fat:
Cook over high heat (a 9 out of 10, if your stovetop has number dials) until it boils (this took about 3 minutes):
Then, reduce to medium heat (I turned my dial to a 5) until the water cooks off (takes about 20-25 minutes):
Then, cook over a low heat (I turned the dial down to 3) until the fat begins to melt. You'll hear cracks and pops and sometimes a BLAM or two as the fat releases air and moisture as it melts. See the fat splatches all over the stovetop? It was also on the windows and floor. And, after I thought I'd cleaned everything really well, I found three giant fat blobs on the ceiling.
It'll cook for 45-60 minutes before you start to hear those cracks and splats goin' on. After that point, you'll see that some of the fat is starting to turn brown. It's at this point you should stir it every 10 minutes or so -- and wear an oven mitt while you do, use a long handled wooden spoon, and don't stand directly above or in front of the pot. When you stir and agitate the fat, it will splatter, and it's hot as all get out. I'm glad I had my glasses on, or else I'd have had fat in my eye, I think.
Once the fat chunks have begun to turn brown, and renders the liquid fat, you've only got about 20-30 minutes to go.
Line a fine-mesh strainer with some cheesecloth (or, if you don't have cheesecloth, then be prepared to strain it twice) and pour the contents of the pot of fat through it into a heatproof (heat-safe?) bowl.
Discard the brown cracklings (or save them and salt them while still hot, for a snack -- though I think they're not as tasty as pork cracklings), let the liquid fat cool for a bit (10 minutes), then pour it into an airtight container. I used a Mason jar:
I let the liquid cool for a bit longer in the jar (another 10 minutes) before putting the lid on it and storing it into the fridge.
After it's been in the fridge for a bit, it'll turn whitish and become opaque:
And there you have it. Rendered beef fat.
Oh, and before I go... you guys? Your comments on the last post? Your emails? Your Tweets? Amazing. Just amazing. Thank you so much. You have NO idea.
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