In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.
Before everyone got (totally unnecessarily) spastic about the idea of saturated fat in the diet, it was valued as a way to add taste to many foods. People who were working hard on the ranch or in the home needed the extra calories. When the larder was a bit bare, fat helped the diner feel more satisfied. After animals were butchered, the fat – especially from large animals like cattle and pigs – was rendered and stored, to be turned into classics like lard pastry or used to fry a variety of foods. Fat was also reused after cooking something else, such as doughnuts, bacon and eggs or fried meat. This used fat – which also came from roasts cooked in the oven – was commonly called dripping. A dripping sandwich was a common item in the school lunch bucket for many children in the first part of the 20th century and well into the post-WWI period because of rationing.
Dripping can be rendered, or clarified, to make the fat clean and useful for cakes, biscuits, pastry or frying – as long as it hasn’t been cooked with onion or garlic. In that case, save it for frying meats or for savory pastry. Dripping from beef and pork has a neutral taste and can be used with almost any other meat. These also taste good when mixed about half and half with bacon dripping. Bacon dripping on its own is too strong for most people. Dripping from lamb or mutton is better used only with those meats.
To Clarify Dripping
Place the fat in a saucepan and cover with at least two inches of water. Gradually bring it to a boil. Pour the mixture into a bowl and allow it to cool. The fat will set in a thick layer above the water. Remove from the bowl and scrape the scraps or debris from the bottom. Slowly melt the cleaned fat again in a clean saucepan without any water and pour into a glass jar for storage. You can reuse fat in this fashion about three times before it begins to develop an off taste. At that point, I usually feed it to the dogs, chickens or pigs, but it’s also good for making soap.
How to Use Dripping
You can use unclarified dripping as a sandwich condiment in place of butter, mayonnaise or similar spreads, or on its own. Mix it with chopped pickle; green, red or yellow onion; a little ketchup; chutney; herbs; Worcestershire sauce or grated cheese. Warm the dripping until it softens slightly to make it easier to combine the additions with the dripping and beat them in well. Add salt and pepper to taste and spread on home-made bread. Unclarified dripping is also a tasty addition to soups and stews.
Dripping for Frying Potatoes
Chop several leftover baked potatoes with a finely diced onion. Cook in clarified or unclarified dripping over medium heat until crisp and well-browned. You can add a little garlic powder or several pressed garlic cloves in the last minute or so of cooking.