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January 14, 2010

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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The process for making rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) is exactly the same, except my grandmother used to add a diced onion or two to the fat as it rendered. Apparently, the food scientists tell us, the antimicrobial effects of the sulfur compounds in the onion help preserve it and keep it good for a long time (Grandma only made schmaltz once a year, but it was enough to last, in the fridge, for the entire year). You should cook it until the cracklings and onion turn a reallllllllly dark mahogany brown; these are then called gribenes and, salted, make a good snack, or can be (MUST be!) added to chopped liver.

I wonder if it would save on cleanup and fat-spattering risk to do this in the oven. When I render goose or duck fat I just throw the hunks of fat into a pyrex dish and shove them into a low/medium oven. Is there something about beef fat that is different? I only mention it because the oven method seems, comparatively, very low maintenance.

Good luck with the upcoming recipe! Given the amazing things you usually manage to turn out, I have complete faith that it'll wow me (and the internets) once again.

Imagine that...cutting through cold fat (beef) feels like cutting through cold fat (butter). I never would have imagined. ;)

Glad you've got your mojo back!

I've rendered beef fat using a slightly different but less-likely-to-burn technique. I used a lot more water and didn't try to boil it away. The beef fat does the same thing - melts and separates from the remaining tissues. The impurities dissolve into the water and the fat forms a thick, pure layer at the top. Turn off the heat, let it cool in the fridge, then remove the disk of hardened tallow from the surface of the liquid. Scrape the yucky goo off the underside of the fat. The process can then be repeated once to make the fat even purer but at that point it's OK to use for cooking, though it won't have the extra flavor from hot-rendering.
My $.02 -

That is so friggin' cool.

Great job on the rendering.
If you want a great butcher, use Wasserman and Lemberger. While they are in Baltimore they deliver to the DC area for free (any order over $50) they are super knowledgable and very accommodating to any request. They, like Max's, are kosher so they won't have everything but what they do have is excellent. They even make their own sausage. (No, I don't have any affilation other than being a happy customer.)

Max's... I absolutely LOVE their shawarma bar. I need to head over there soon.

Could you have used a cover to avoid fat splattering? Maybe one of thos big/flat fine mesh covers?

I usually have beef fat around, but it is the somewhat less-pure side effect of making a lot of beef stock.

when i rendered duck fat, i did it on the side burner of my grill. outside. i make very few such inspiredly brilliant decisions, but that was at least three of them.

Yay for starting to get that mojo back!

For some reason I'm just amazed that fat does indeed become cracklin's when cooked long enough. I knew that, but I don't think I *really* knew it. So lame.

Carol, just fyi, most kosher butchers do not charge customers for things i.e. fat and bones for soup, which is nice. I keep a kosher kitchen - though I'll eat anything outside, sue me - and I'm constantly making stock and soup etc. Whenever I want to put marrow bones in a bean or pea soup jsut to add some richness, the butcher hands them over for nothing. But glad to see the rendering worked for you! Can't wait to see how the recipe turns out - I love bison.

I just have one thing to say... Woohoo! Carol's back! :-)

Would you like to borrow our splatter screen? It will help from having to scrape fat off your ceiling next time you try this :)

(the one we bought was the recommended choice from Cooks Illustrated)

If this is the same kind of beef fat that is also called "suet," I had a heck of a time finding some a few years back when we made authentic English Plum Pudding. Had to call around until I found a butcher who was pretty surprised, but when grated in the food processor and used in the long-steamed dough, boy oh boy was it good. Worth the hassle to find it again.

bubby, uhh I mean Carol, you really do have the touch...now try it with chicken, and then eat the onions all shriveled and fried up; then to Walmart for the XXL sweat pants (aren't they still called that??)


Glad you're back! Question - aside from days when you're rendering fat - how do you keep your burners and surrounding stove top so clean?(Mine is an eyesore/potential hazmat site!)

**KAC -- it's a little disorder I like to call controlus freakusitis. That's how my stovetop stays so clean. :) --Carol

MJ: suet is very specifically the hard, white fat from around the kidneys of the cow. It's supposedly the purest raw fat on the animal. Tallow is more-or-less any other beef fat.

Yeah, you definitely need to get yourself a splatter screen/guard thing if you do this again. Your poor kitchen! So glad to hear that you're doing better.

Re Dan's mention of kosher sausage at Max's:
That's an oxymoron, smile.

Jeez. I am making Zuni Short Ribs with Chimey Ale today. As I was standing here cutting off the fat - beef fat - a light bulb went off. So I'm back here re-reading this post.

What the H am I going to do with beef fat?

You're too young to remember a time when MacDonalds cooked their fries in beef fat. But they were DELISH. I haven't been to a MacDonalds in over 16 years. And Walter's NEVER been to one. But I am going to make fries in rendered beef fat.

Don't tell anyone except Gary Taubs.

I found your blog through Metafilter. This is really cool!

Totally unrelated comment, but guess who I saw on my LAX-SFO flight today... THOMAS KELLER!!!! He was flying with someone bald that I thought might have been Jonathan Benno but not quite sure, as he had facial hair on & I didn’t get a good long glance because i was too busy trying to figure out what Tommyboy was reading (some book about wine) and thinking how remarkably young he looked. You were the first person I thought of to mention this to. :)

i'm new here - zipping through the comments seems like everybody knows each other - and your site is amazing. kinda crazy, but aaaamazing. seen the french laundry, too. gosh.
i do this every christmas. i'm romanian, and every year of my childhood a pig would be cut and cooked. entirely, over the course of a couple days. this is called 'jumari' and it's made with belly meat or neck sometimes,or whatever fat has a decent marbling of meat running through it. they can be consumed as such, as an appetizer with bread and onion, or ground into paste for several dishes. and after, power up for the christmas cleaning. it's a nasty job, but i guess there's a price to be paid for all the yums.

a big ps, way after the fact, but i've said i'm new: the post on tripe in the french laundry is hilarious. i'm wiping tears. funny. but also a bit confused, as to why, and how. in romania tripe soup is commonplace as scrambled eggs. you'll find it in any and all restaurants. it's quite good. the tripe doesn't have a strong taste, but rather as it's cooked in a garlicky broth it takes on those notes. the broth is then finished with a mixture of sour cream, more garlic and egg yolk. i've never seen it cooked for more than 2 hours. just sayin'.

Thanks for this, girl! I know you posted it a long time ago, and I just want you to know that it's still a great resource for people just coming to learn about this kinda cool stuff!

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