Thursday, April 7, 2011

It All Started with Potatoes

So how does a nice girl like me end up boiling an enormous pot of cow fat to render tallow? Well, it's a slippery slope. I suppose it can all be traced back to my addiction to french fries. I make my own occasionally, as I have mentioned once or twice. And the oil I used to fry them in was canola oil.

Now, canola oil works just fine and there will be no complaints from anyone eating those fries if that is the oil you use. Trust me. But do you remember what McDonalds used to use to fry their french fries before all this craziness about fats began? Yup, beef tallow. And they used it because A) It has a really, really high smoke point, which makes it perfect for deep fat frying when temperatures get insanely high and B) It supposedly makes for the best-tasting fries.

I say supposedly only because I can't really remember what McDonalds fries tasted like when they were still using the tallow. And I had never made my own with tallow. Which, it occurred to me, is frankly ridiculous considering the quantity of suet I have in my freezer.

Suet is the fat just as it comes off the cow (from around the kidneys, in case you were curious). Tallow is the pure fat that you get after you simmer the suet to separate the oil from the impurities. You strain the oil and that oil is tallow. The solids left are called cracklin's*.

I looked up various ways to render the tallow. Some involved the stove top; some involved the oven; some called for just cutting the suet into small cubes; some suggested cutting the cubes, partially freezing them, and then shredding them in your food processor.

A food processor full of shredded suet seemed pretty gross to me. Also unnecessary work. So I just cut the suet up into little cubes, about an inch square.

Because of the amount of suet I was starting with--which I didn't weigh but totally filled my big 6-quart Crock-Pot--it took quite awhile to cut the suet into cubes. Also, it made my hand cramp, because suet is pretty firm. It's waxy, like candles, and requires some force to cut through. And then, when you've been handling it awhile, your hands get all greasy and slippery, which adds to the fun (and safety!) of using a knife.

But once the suet was all cut up into pieces and and I managed to keep all my fingers intact, I just dumped it all in my Crock-Pot and let it go. See, fats like tallow and lard are rendered at a very low heat over a long time, which is exactly what a Crock-Pot is for. So I saw no reason to monitor anything on the stove when I could just forget it for six hours or so.

I started it on high to get the melting going, then I switched it to low and left it. It was done after about six hours, but I didn't get to straining it until a couple of hours after that. Didn't matter, though. I just switched it to warm to keep it liquid until I could strain it.

I strained it through both a fine mesh strainer and cheese cloth, pressing on the solids to extract all the oil. Next time, I think I'll just use the strainer, though.

And there was my tallow. A little over half a gallon of tallow, to be specific.

That's a lot of french fries.

I haven't actually used any of the tallow yet, but oh, I will. Beefy french fries, here I come . . .

* No terminal "g," you notice. I bet the people who eat cracklin's (yes, some people do eat them) also go huntin' and sugarin'.


Chiot's Run said...

I bet it makes fab fries, can't wait to make some of my own with my beef tallow or lard. It's actually amazing how much better fried stuff is when made with lard, not greasy at all. It's the crap veggie oil they try to sell us as "healthy" that makes fried goods greasy (not to mention it's not healthy at all).

Give me some clams or potatoes fried in beef or pork lard any day!

I had to buy a 5 gallon bucket of tallow because I couldn't find any locally from the farmers I get cows from (very sad). I'm thinking trying to make some candles with mine, seems interesting.

Anonymous said...

I question whether any food is worth that much hat is off to you for your industry imagination and determination.

Phoo-D said...

Wow- I don't think I've ever known anyone to render tallow. I'll be really curious to hear how it compares to lard and how the french fries turn out!

Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

There's a third reason they used to use it. It's reusable. Like, for a long time. As long as you keep skimming out the burned bits you can keep reusing tallow for weeks at a time. And that's using it all day, every day, like McDonalds did.

At home, just pour it back through the strainer again after each use and it's good. Just don't use it for fish. Then everything you fry in it will taste like fish.

Word verification: obalerc -- small column of grease that forms under a poorly-maintained deep fryer. "Though sign-post of the Fryolator! Obalerc."

Anonymous said...

Now am craving good fries....
Good thinking on the crock pot.


tu mere said...

I remember, as a child, loving the cracklins your great grandma'd occasionally make when we visited in Mississippi. Guess she didn't always have the makings, but, when she did, what came out of the oven was always a treat. Haven't had them since. Great memories.

Ann said...

While doing research for an "eat real food" speech in culinary school, I read that McDonald's added a beef flavoring to their fries after they quit using tallow. I just checked their web site and found that "natual beef flavoring" is indeed still listed as an ingredient in their fries. I think I'd rather have real tallow. Go Kristin!

rls said...


Lisa said...

That tallow makes really nice soap.

FinnyKnits said...

The lanolin was one thing. The shepherdessing was another thing. This? This is a whoooooooooole other world of OTHERness.

Your own beef tallow? Girl. You are so dedicated to french fries I must bow down to thee.

Meanwhile, you know what I hear is, like THE ONE of french fry makins? Duck fat.

Yes. Duck fat fries are supposed to be THE ONE of french fries.

I, myself, have never had them, but I don't have access to duck fat. You might someday though, so, like, keep it in mind.

Happy french frying.