Monday, November 26, 2012

How to render turkey fat

Rendered turkey fat
There are a lot of things you can do with left-over turkey, and I'm sure that everyone's getting their fill of it by now. Whether you had your feast on Thursday or the weekend, the likelihood is that you have a significant amount of turkey in your fridge or freezer, and are wondering what to do with it all. I'll touch on a few recipes this week, some easy and some more labor intensive, but first I want to cover the basics - what to do with all that fat!

Believe it or not, turkey fat isn't as bad for you as butter is. It isn't as bad for you as most vegetable fats like canola or "vegetable oil" and is naturally low in saturated fats. If your turkey is pasture fed, it's also full of a lot of necessary vitamins and minerals. This means you can save that turkey fat and use it in any recipe that calls for lard or animal fat, and it can be used in place of butter.

Fat on top of broth
Before using your turkey fat, though, you need to render it. The process of rendering fat (of any kind of animal) means to remove all the non-fat from it. For me, that meant all the little bits of turkey that remained in it, as well as some herbs. It's not a difficult process, but it does take a bit of time and patience.

The easiest way to get at the turkey fat is to take all your leftover skin, bones, gristle and assorted drippings, put them in a big pot, and make stock from it. Once your stock is made, set it outside (if it's cold enough) or in the fridge until it is thoroughly chilled. The fat will float to the top and harden.

Removing fat with a spoon
Fat in a bowl
Once the fat is hard, remove it with a slotted spoon to a bowl or small sauce pan. The broth can then be heated and canned or poured into containers and frozen. Your broth will be largely fat free, because you will remove the majority of it!

The fat can then be heated on top of the stove to melt it. Use a medium high heat, and it will melt down very quickly. You'll see in the picture that my fat has bits of herbs in it, which floated to the top and got stuck there. Before finishing, I need to remove those herbs. They will go bad if they are not removed, and that will ruin your fat!

Melting turkey fat
Once the fat is melted, but before it gets really hot, pour it through a coffee filter to remove the last of the impurities from it. This helps make sure there are no bits of meat or bone or herb left in it, which might cause it to go rancid. If it doesn't look clear, re-heat it and pour through another filter. This is the most important part of rendering, and it makes a huge difference on both the length of storage of your fat, and the flavor (donuts fried in fat that contains meat are going to taste a little funny, and let's not even consider what will happen if you're washing your face and bits of old turkey end up on it!).

Removing the water
When the fat is completely strained, put it back onto the stove in its pot and let it come to a full boil. It will hiss and spit quite a bit, usually, as it steams and cooks out all the water. Continue to cook the fat on a low heat (just enough to make it bubble but not enough to cause it to boil over) until all the spitting stops. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to hours, depending on how much water is in your fat. If it looks like it'll be taking a long time, consider doing it in your crock pot on high, where you can leave it without worry of spilling over or burning.

The finished product can be stored in air-tight containers in the fridge for about three months, or in the freezer for up to a year. Turkey fat can be used in place of palm oil in soap recipes, and can be used for making pastries or anything that asks for butter or lard. It will harden up in the fridge until it looks just like store-bought lard, although it will be a darker color.

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