Natural Beef is Simply Too Good to Let Excess Fat Go to Waste!
Naturally grazed and fattened beef that has never been exposed to high density feed lots or supermarket distribution systems is one of the best kept secrets on the market. I buy mine from a custom meat processor I’ll call Joe. I’d tell you where his shop is, but hey, some secrets are just too good to blast all over the internet! Contact me personally if you want in on this one!
As an experienced butcher, Joe opened his custom shop for the same reason I started looking for custom processed meats. He was tired of being involved in supermarket systems that add so many dubious ingredients and questionable fillers to our foods. He wanted nothing more to do with red goo, pink slime, ammonia, or anything else to the beef he packaged. Me, I wanted nothing more to do with serving pink slime to my family, disguised as chile meat. So Joe quit a secure union job at the supermarket, and opened his own butcher shop. I quit buying my meat from the supermarket, and started buying it from Joe. It has been a great arrangement.
The first time I grilled a steak I’d purchased from Joe, my mouth watered and my eyes teared with the first bite. Why did my eyes tear? I can’t really say, other than that the flavor induced a flood of childhood memories and emotions that suddenly made me recognize that somewhere between childhood and the present, I had forgotten what real meat tasted like! I’d been eating that stuff they sell at the supermarket for so long, I hadn’t even noticed the gradual loss of flavor that took place as supermarkets became more consolidated, and beef was transported from farther away.
“…somewhere between childhood and the present, I had forgotten what real meat tasted like!”
Today, my family has been enjoying Joe’s beef for a few years. We typically put in with a friend, buy a whole steer, divvy it up, and fill our freezer for several months at a time. When I went to collect my last purchase, Joe asked me if I wanted the fat, I replied, “You bet!”
Now, there was a time I would have avoided fat like the plague. I’ve battled the bulge since high school, and have been on a low fat diet since I was at least 16! But ever since my friend, Suzanne Ricketts and her friend, Ray Audette opened my eyes to the benefit of more fat in the diet, I’ve been attuned to the growing evidence that fats have been falsely accused of creating the weight and disease problems too many of us struggle with today. I’ve cautiously increased my own dietary fat levels, and while I’ve neither gained nor lost weight, I have found that many of my vital statistics have improved. More importantly, the sugar cravings I’ve struggled with since adolescence have diminished, I work longer without getting distracted by hunger, and I am much less prone to emotional eating than I ever was in my low fat diet days. So if Joe is willing to throw a 10 lb bag of fat trimmings in with my few hundred pounds of beef, who am I to turn it down.
Converting Fat Trimmings to Tallow Requires Rendering
Of course, I didn’t really know what to do with the fat when I got it home, and other demands called. So I stuffed the bag into the freezer with the rest of the meat, and forgot about it for 5 or 6 months. Then I did what any budding Paleo dieter would do. I Googled a few Paleo sites, and then I called for help!
“Suzanne,” I asked, “What do I do with this stuff?”
“I don’t know. Let me call Ray.” Cool. Suzanne was going to get me advice from the Neanderthin Expert himself!
The next morning, after an evening coaching session from a newly updated Suzanne, I cut the frozen fat into mid sized pieces (3 to 4 inches wide) loaded them all into a large stainless steel stew pot, and placed it on my stove to simmer for a few hours, stirring occassionally. I was told to cut them smaller, but I don’t always follow directions. I assumed it made little difference, since all was going to melt anyway. In hind sight, this decision may have resulted in longer cooking time. When I do this again, I will cut the fat into bite size pieces.
Next, I placed the pot on my stove (I use an induction cooktop), turned the heat to a low setting (Number 3 on a scale of 1-9), placed a lid on the pan, and allowed the fat to simmer for perhaps four hours, stirring occassionally. As the fat melted and the temperature stabilized, I removed the lid to allow steam to escape. Warning here. Tallow rendering has a rather strong smell. Use a good ventilation system, or cook it outside.
After four hours, most of the fat was molten, and some of the original chunks had taken on a crackly texture, like the chicharrones I am more familiar with. More than a little nervous about pouring hot fat, I turned off the heat, and allowed the mix to cool for about 10 minutes before attempting to move it. Next, I carefully set up a fine mesh, stainless steel strainer on top of a stainless steel saucepan with a pour spout, and carefully poured the hot tallow through the mesh.
Once the tallow had been collected in the saucepan, it was much easier to maneuver than in its original stew pot. From there, I poured it thorough a funnel into one quart mason jars.
While still hot, the tallow has a golden color. As it cools, it becomes white.
How to Store Tallow
While most experts agree that tallow can be stored at room temperature, there is a possibility of oxidation when it is stored for long periods of time. This risk can be reduced by storing tallow in air tight containers, and keeping it cool. Since cooking with tallow would be a new experience for both me and for those family members who are brave enough to suffer through my experiments, I knew that most of my tallow would need a long shelf life. I chose to seal three of the four mason jars with a vacuum jar sealer and store them in the freezer. I expect them to be good there for years, but I doubt they will last that long. I keep the forth jar in the cabinet, right next to my olive oil, where I have already used it in a variety of cooking trials.
Cooking with Tallow
Unlike lard, or the vegetable shortening that replaced lard during my childhood years, beef tallow has a rather strong, beefy flavor. So far I have used it to make masa for tamales, a roux for thickening red chile sauce, and for various beef stir fry dishes. I absolutely love both the texture and the flavor that the tallow adds to tamales. It also enhances the flavor of my red chile. However, I am hesitant to use it universally in place of lard or vegetable oils, because clearly, beef tallow adds a taste of its own, and that flavor will not go well with everything.
Other Uses for Tallow
Of course, if you are totally into the do-it-yourself mindset, tallow is also useful for soap or candlemaking. Though I have not tried to make soap myself since my high school chemistry class, I do hope to prepare another article soon, on the value of using natural, home-made soaps to nourish and support healthy microbiomes on the largest organ in your body, your skin.