Rendering animal fats is a powerful technique to know. Olive oil and butter are still my most common fats for cooking, but having some rendered bacon or chicken schmaltz are so useful to alter or boost the flavor of a dish.
Like Christine said in the post, this is wet rendering. The fat is in a pot and basically starts off by melting into the water. When the water boils, the whole mixture is essentially held at 212F/100C until the water boils off – hot enough to melt the fat but not so hot that it cooks and develops off flavors.
(Dry rendering, by contrast, involves simply cooking chunks of whatever in a skillet. I do this most often with bacon, over a medium-low heat – the fat in the bacon needs to render out before the bacon starts to burn. Wet rendering takes longer but is more forgiving about this, dry rendering requires a little more focus.)
After the water boils off, the remaining liquid in the pot goes from cloudy to clear, and then you’re off to the races. Take care not to burn the fat or the cracklin’ in the pot – you want the skin to fry crisp and golden brown, but you don’t want to get to, or past, the smoke point of the fat in the pot.
If you do this with pork, you get rendered lard and cracklings.
If you do this with chicken, as shown, you get schmaltz and gribenes.
If you do this with duck, you get duck fat (swoon!) and … well, duck cracklings, I think.
And so on.
As I mentioned above, this is a tool on your way to a finished dish. To get a sense of how to use these, buy some potatoes, dice them, dry them with a paper towel, and saute them in these different fats. You’ll find that it all tastes like golden brown delicious potato, but they have background flavors from the cooking fat.
Christine has launched the first edition of Cooking with Mike (link opens in a new window), our mostly-weekly cooking series. The soup is one we’ve eaten for a long time, and regularly makes an appearance for a quick weeknight dinner.
I won’t rehash the making of the soup itself – she’s got the key information up on her site – but I did have some extra comments worth writing here.
First, like many soups, this isn’t fussy about exact ingredient proportions. That happened to be the bunch of leeks and the size of cauliflower head I bought for the shoot. Play with it, and adjust to your taste – more leek, less leek, some shallots instead, and so on.
The flavor of this soup is pretty clean – the smokiness of the bacon, the body of the stock, the vegetable notes of the cauliflower and soft pungency of the leeks. (Editor’s note – Please don’t let me write a sentence with all those adjectives in it at once. It sounds too pretentious.) This also means it’s a great base to add all sorts of flavors – peppers, spices, herbs, booze. For example, curried cauliflower soup with pistachios.
Finally, there are many ways to finish the soup, which Christine touched on in her post:
The chunkiest finish is to simply serve it as it is – pieces of cauliflower and leek in a broth. If that is your intent (and add some carrot pieces, that sounds great) then pay a bit more attention when cutting the leeks and cauliflower to get them to similar, even sizes. Since this was getting blended, I didn’t fuss too much.
Next is to mash this with a potato masher or the like. This won’t ever get truly smooth, but it’ll get kind of smooth, but still very rustic.
Stick blender is next on the list. This can get you a pretty smooth soup, although you’ll still feel it – it’s not completely smooth, but there aren’t chunks to chew on.
If you want to get it nice and smooth, a combination is best – blend it with a stick blender then pass it through a fine mesh strainer. I have a couple of inexpensive ones from Target or the like around the house, and while they aren’t the finest mesh, they do the job well. Take a ladle and push the soup through the strainer – this evens out the soup and makes it finer than just blending alone.
Finally is a standing blender. The Vitamix shown was a Christmas present for me (yay!), and it definitely has some torque to it. This created an amazingly smooth, thick, velvet-like soup. I thought it was delicious. Christine decided it was odd. Your mileage may vary.
So, make the soup. Write in and tell us about what you’ve done and what you think. And, there’ll be more to come!
One last Poetry Breakfast entry. I wrote this about midway through the month of doing these, and knew then that I would save this for the final entry. I had great fun writing these. When I started out, I was able to keep a few days ahead of my publishing schedule. Alas, a combination of work travel and a lack of source material (hey, my knowledge of poetry isn’t THAT deep) and the well ran dry on me. Maybe I’ll do another month of these next year, if I can line up some good poems between now and then.
This remains one of my favorite passages of all time. The speech is from Shakespeare, from Henry V – Act 4, Scene 3 – as King Henry is spurring on the troops, weary from slogging across France in horrible weather, for the Battle of Agincourt. The actual passage is a bit longer; this comes from Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 movie adaptation (). I remember clearly where I was when I heard this – junior year of high school, second semester, British Lit – and to this day the scene gives me chills.
Through the power of YouTube, you can see the scene below. It loses a bit of oomph without the context of the rest of the film – which I highly recommend watching – but it’s pretty awesome nonetheless.
(Note – St. Crispin’s Day is October 25th. After writing this, I urge anybody reading this to gather friends together on that day and share a meal. It might have helped if I published this two months ago, but hey.)
St. Crispin’s Brunch Speech regrets to Shakespeare and Kenneth Branagh
What’s he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland?
No, my fair cousin. If we are fit to dine,
we are enough to do our hunger proud.
And if to eat, the fewer eggs, the greater share of bacon!
God’s will, I pray thee, wish not one diner more.
Rather, proclaim it, Westmoreland, to the table,
that he which has no stomach for this meal…
let him depart.
His tab shall be paid,
and cash for the valet put into his purse.
We would not dine in that man’s company
that fears his fellowship to dine with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that partakes of this meal, and comes safe home,
will stand at tiptoe when this meal is named
and rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall eat this day and live old age
will yearly, on the vigil, feed his neighbors
and say, “tomorrow is Saint Crispin’s.”
Then will he lift his shirt and show his gut
and say, “this weight I gained on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget, yet all shall be forgot
but he’ll remember with advantages what foods he ate that day.
Then shall their names, familiar in their mouths as household words –
Pigs in a Blanket,
Bacon and Sausages,
Omelettes and French Toast,
Orange Juice and Coffee –
be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
These dishes shall a good man teach his son.
Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
from this day to the ENDING OF THE WORLD,
but we diners shall be remembered.
we happy few,
we band of brothers.
For he today that eats his fill with me shall be my brother.
Be he ne’er so full, this day shall strengthen his appetite.
And gentlemen who stayed home still in bed
shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
and HOLD THEIR MANHOODS CHEAP
whilst any speaks that dined with us
upon Saint Crispin’s Day!
What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland?
No, my fair cousin.
If we are marked to die, we are
enough to do our country loss.
And if to live,
the fewer men,
The greater share of honor.
God’s will, I pray thee,
wish not one man more.
Rather, proclaim it,
Westmoreland, through my host,
that he which hath
no stomach to this fight…
let him depart.
His passport shall be made…
and crowns for convoy
put into his purse.
We would not die
in that man’s company…
that fears his fellowship
to die with us.
This day is called
the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day
and comes safe home…
will stand at tiptoe
when this day is named…
and rouse him
at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day
and live old age…
will yearly, on the vigil,
feast his neighbors…
and say, “tomorrow
is Saint Crispin’s.”
Then will he strip his sleeve
and show his scars…
and say, “these wounds
I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget,
yet all shall be forgot but
he’ll remember with advantages…
what feats he did that day.
Then shall our names, familiar
in their mouths as household words…
Harry the king,
Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot,
Salisbury and Gloucester…
be in their flowing cups
This story shall
a good man teach his son.
shall ne’er go by,
from this day to
the ending of the world,
but we in it
shall be remembered.
we happy few,
we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his
blood with me shall be my brother.
Be he ne’er so vile,
this day shall gentle his condition.
And gentlemen in England
shall think themselves accursed
they were not here…
and hold their manhoods cheap…
whilst any speaks
that fought with us…
upon Saint Crispin’s day!
[Laid up with a cold at the moment, so forgive me for “phoning it in” a bit. Still, this one tickled me.]
The Pig Roald Dahl doesn’t deserve this
In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
So we ate it.
The Pig Roald Dahl
In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn’t read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn’t puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, “By gum, I’ve got the answer!”
“They want my bacon slice by slice
“To sell at a tremendous price!
“They want my tender juicy chops
“To put in all the butcher’s shops!
“They want my pork to make a roast
“And that’s the part’ll cost the most!
“They want my sausages in strings!
“They even want my chitterlings!
“The butcher’s shop! The carving knife!
“That is the reason for my life!”
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great piece of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor…
Now comes the rather grizzly bit
So let’s not make too much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
“I had a fairly powerful hunch
“That he might have me for his lunch.
“And so, because I feared the worst,
“I thought I’d better eat him first.”