It’s pig butchering season here on the farm, and with it comes so much excitement, emotion, and inevitably, exhaustion.
Those of you who have raised and butchered your own animal, you know that reverent feeling that comes over you during this time. When you hold in your hands a part of that animal, you don’t see just a piece of lifeless flesh. You see its beginning, middle, and end. That sounds so simple.
But it’s not.
I see them sunbathing in the morning and cooling off in the water in the afternoon.
I see buckets and buckets and buckets of sloppy fermented feed hauled twice a day, every day. One time completely splashing myself in the face when said feed hit the trough just right.
I see even more buckets and buckets of kitchen scraps, garden produce, apples, potatoes, tomatoes, corn stalks, anything I could get my hands on…they got it.
I see an aching back, countless pairs of jeans and pajama pants destroyed by muddy pig noses, sore feet from being stomped on, twisted ankles from being tripped.
Two straight weeks of one super smart pig escaping the fence nearly every day, sometimes multiple times a day.
Countless hours and days and weeks of tending, care, thought, learning, sweat, tears, anger, delight.
All leading up to this day. This time. Only until you’ve experienced this for yourself, can you truly understand the respect and appreciation for this kind of food.
Which, in a long roundabout way, bring me to the point of this post. When you have such a personal history with an animal, you wish to honor its life the very best way you can. And that is by using each and every last bit possible. I’ve discussed this previously in my marinated pig heart post. Understandably, some have a more difficult time than others with the idea of consuming the lesser-appreciated parts such as organs, feet, tails, and heads. I’m not fully there myself. I get it.
But what about fats? We all love butter, right? And almost everyone uses some sort of oil in their cooking. But what about other fats? Pigs provide gorgeous fats such as leaf fat which renders into colorless, odorless, snow-white lard which lends to the most decadent of pie crusts and pastries.
They also have delicious back fat, that can be rendered for savory use. Or fried up and eaten on its own. Ask me how I know.
And then there is caul fat. Ah, yes…beautiful caul fat.
It is the lacy, crocheted afghan of a membrane that surrounds the intestines of pigs, sheep, and cows. The most desirable source is from that of the pig, as it is known for its superior consistency, flavor, and fat content.
This membrane is fairly large, cuts very easily so that you can use what you need, and then freezes very well for future use.
But how does one use caul fat and why?
Caul fat is used to wrap meat of all kinds including sausage patties, roasts, whole birds such as duck or chicken, lean cuts of venison or lamb, or any other portion that may tend to dry out when being cooked. You can even wrap fish, rice, potatoes and other veggies prior to frying. It not only helps meat retain moisture during cooking, but it essentially melts and imparts a bacon-like flavor to it. It is also self-binding, so you can wrap your roast and the membrane will adhere much like plastic wrap.
(This is rabbit porchetta that I wrapped in caul fat and baked. You can see the melted, golden membrane on the outside which made an already awesome porchetta reach off-the-charts amazingness).
Think bacon-wrapped everything but using caul fat rather than bacon. And it is so much easier than bacon.
The good news is if you don’t raise your own pigs, you can source it from a local farmer or butcher. Little do many know that this often cast-away membrane is in fact a culinary dream.
How to prepare caul fat for use or for freezing.
When you receive your caul fat, it does need a little bit of prep work before it can be used for the first time or before it heads to your freezer.
You may find that it is pinkish in color and has an off-odor to it. Never fear. This is completely normal. It just takes some soaking to bring it up to cooking standard.
- Soak in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes.
- Drain, rinse, and return to the bowl. Cover with white vinegar or lemon juice. Soak for 1 hour.
- Drain, rinse well under running water, and return to the bowl. Cover with cold water and soak 1 hour.
- Drain and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
It is now ready to use. Otherwise fold it up, wrap in plastic wrap and then freezer paper, and store in the freezer. When it comes time to using your caul fat from the freezer, allow it to defrost before use.
That’s it! You don’t have to be a fancy cook or chef to use caul fat. When I think back to some of the dry pork chops and roasts of my past, I wish I had known that such an easy fix existed.
Give it a try. Your taste buds and family will thank you 🙂