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Singapore is famous for its street food and crispy lardons made from rendering pork fat are the secret ingredient in most traditional Singapore Chinese hawker dishes.
The key to making really, really good traditional Singaporean street food is to use homemade pork lard- it gives the dishes an incredible flavour that oil just can't replicate! Although you can buy ready made pork lard in some supermarkets, I prefer to use homemade pork lard and lardons in my cooking and baking because store bought pork lard contains lots of nasty additives (I get enough of those through my bad snacking habits!) and can sometimes have a funny taste. In addition, the crispy lardons you get after rendering pork fat make delicious snacks or toppings for salads, noodles or even a plain bowl of rice!
Why use pork lard in your cooking and baking?
- The taste!
- If you're wondering why you can't recreate the taste of Singaporean hawker food at home, one reason could be that you're not cooking with pork lard. It's just not the same when you use vegetable oil! One of The Best Plates of Noodles I've ever had was just plain noodles charred over a very hot gas fire using pork lard. (It's the Teochew Restaurant in Bedok (Chin Lee), opposite FengShan market, if you live in Singapore and want to try these noodles!)
- Pork lard has a high smoke point
- i.e. it won't burn when you cook over high temperatures (burnt food => cancer FYI)
- It also has a high melting point, making for super flaky pastries (flakier than if you use butter!) such as pies, pineapple tarts and chinese peanut cookies
- You end up with crackling lardons. Enough said!
- It helps you to use up kitchen leftovers! If you buy pork belly to cook with, but find it too fatty and trim some of the excess fat away, don't throw those bits out! Keep them for rendering but don't combine it with pure pork lard as the pieces from the pork belly fat may contain meat which will reduce the shelf life of your homemade lard.
Note: I've read some blogs that claim pork lard has health benefits- I'm not a nutritionist so I really can't say!! In Singapore, the government actually encourages hawkers not to use pork lard as they say vegetable oil is healthier so..... any nutritionists out there that can comment?
How to render pork lard
There are several different ways to render pork lard (and in the process make lardons):
- over the stove
- in the oven
- in the slow cooker
In addition, you can either do:
- dry rendering (heating just the pork fat and, if desired, some aromatics such as ginger and garlic in the pot)- results in a darker coloured lard with a lower smoke point
- wet rendering (adding water to the pork fat- and aromatics if desired- and boiling together in the pot) - this will give you a whiter lard with a higher smoke point
Since I left my slow cooker in London, and using the oven in Singapore apparently costs S$44 an hour (!!), I usually make my homemade pork lard and lardons over the stove.
What kind of pork fat can I use?
You can use:
- leaf fat from around the kidneys or loins (best for pastries due to its neutral flavour)
- fatback (best for stir fries and making crispy lardons)
- belly fat (not recommended if you can get either of the above)
Although I do trim out the excess fat when I cook with pork belly (and keep it for rendering), I don't recommend buying pork belly specifically for rendering as it's hard to completely separate the meat and fat and the leftover bits of meat in the lard will reduce its shelf life.
- Ensure the fat is all cut into equal sized, small pieces
- If the fat is cut into different sized pieces, they will cook at different rates and you will end up with both undercooked and burnt lardons!
- Cutting the fat into small pieces means that you get bite-sized lardons; large pieces of fat will leave you with lardons that are too big
- If your lard does not come cut, you may want to pop it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before cutting. This helps to harden the pork fat and make it easier to cut.
- Use low heat: rendering is a slow process
- Using high heat gives the lard a stronger porky taste
- 225-250 F (107 C- 121C) in the oven
- If there are bubbles around the fat, continue rendering (the bubbles indicate that there is still moisture in the fat)
- Strain the lard into a jar after rendering: impurities in the lard will result in mold! (On its own, lard will eventually go rancid after a long period of time but will not turn moldy.)
- Let the lard completely cool before you close the jar- it turns white after cooling!
- If the pork scratchings are not as crispy as you want at the end of the rendering - though they should be- just dry fry them in a pan for a bit and they'll get nice and crackling. Alternatively, bake them in the oven or air fryer for a few minutes at 350 F (178 C).
Now that I've done the hard work, what do I do about storage?
Pork lard can last for a long time- I know of people who say they keep their lard for up to a year but I like to use mine up MUCH more quickly that that! Traditionally people didn't keep their pork lard in the fridge but I would recommend doing so since we have access to the technology now! Before using your lard, always check that it is not rancid (as indicated by the presence of a bad smell!) or moldy (properly rendered pork lard won't go moldy- mold means that there was moisture left in the pork fat.)
Pork scratchings, on the other hand, are best consumed within a few days to keep them crispy.
Note: lard can be frozen if you've made a huge batch.
How do I use the scratchings?
- Snack on them, they're super addictive! Other Asian Snack recipes can be found at this link or this one for Asian nut ideas.
- Add them to fried noodles such as this bihun goreng
- Use them as toppings for dishes which you want to add crunch to, such as soups and porridge
- Toss with salad- they're basically an even better replacement in any dish that calls for croutons
How to make homemade pork lard and lardons
- Dutch oven/ pot
- Metal strainer
- Glass jar
- Kitchen towel (for scratchings)
- Pork Fat
- Aromatics such as ginger and scallions Optional
- Water (enough to cover fat in the pot) Optional
- Cut the pork fat into equal sized, small pieces. For easier cutting, put the fat in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to firm it up.
- Place the pork fat and aromatics, if using, into a pot over low heat (2-3 on an induction stove) and then reduce to 1-2 once the oil has started oozing out of the fat. (If you want to use wet rendering, add enough water to cover the fat but not more than that or you'll be slaving over the stove for hours.)
- The fat will take 1-2 hours to completely render. Make sure that there are no more bubbles around the fat before switching off the fire.
- Place the pork scratchings on a kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil. If not as crunchy as you like, pop them into a dry pan, air fryer or oven for a few minutes (350F/ 177C)
- Filter the pork lard into a heat resistant glass jar- this is particularly important if you've added aromatics to your lard- allow it to completely cool before covering and refrigerating. Keep it for up to 6 months in the fridge and do not use if rancid (smells bad) or moldy)