Monthly Archives: September 2016

Rendering Duck Fat

I wrote in my previous article on Bone Broth about how I save the fat that rises to the top of the cooled broth. I scoop this out and put it into a dutch oven on the stove. The fat is rendered down and put into jars, and I use it for cooking. Duck fat is considered one of the most prized cooking fats by chefs and foodies for its flavor and cooking qualities, and is becoming more popular of late because it is high in monounsaturated fat, the “good” fat.

All the cooking fat we render on our farm comes from our pasture-raised, grass and organic-fed chickens, ducks, geese, and sheep. We use it mostly for roasting, sauteing, or pan-frying vegetables, and it is delicious.

I have also prepared this fat by rendering the skins of the ducks we have processed. I’ll be honest. I have processed our ducks and geese many times, and trying to get all the feathers off is almost impossible for me. I have tried every combination of dry and wet plucking, by hand and with an automatic plucker, with single and multiple dips into wax, and I have yet to come up with a system that is effective and efficient. I can get all the feathers, but it takes so long, that it is almost not worth it. I end up doing the best I can, which is pretty good but not good enough for sales, and then I skin the bird. But I save the skin. There is so much great fat in the skin that I just can’t waste it.

Duck skin cracklings

Duck skin cracklings

Rendering fat from the skins is easy. Just add all the skins to a cooking pot; I prefer a dutch oven. I add a little bit of water to prevent the skins from burning at first. Then I put the pot on to simmer. As the skins heat up, they release the golden fat. Eventually, the water all boils off and we are left with the rendered fat and the cooked skins known as cracklings. We eat the cracklings if the skin is cleaned well, and they taste great sprinkled with a little salt.

The image at the top of this article is the duck fat I most recently rendered from the skins… beautiful, liquid gold! There are a number of ways to get this great cooking fat, and if you have the ability to produce or procure it, I highly recommend it.

 

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Making Bone Broth

I love bone broth.

Bone broth is the flavorful liquid produced when bones from poultry, fish, beef, lamb, etc. are simmered for hours to days with vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Here is our 62-quart stock pot... the Bone Broth Pot!

Here is our 62-quart stock pot… the Bone Broth Pot!

It tastes great. Seriously. Bone broth has a rich flavor that reawakens the sense of what food is supposed to taste like. It also can contain a lot of gelatin which is a natural thickening agent useful in soups, stews, sauces, and curries. I use it in many meals that I cook as one of my “secret ingredients” because it imparts a difficult to describe depth or layered flavor. I think this may have to do with how nutritious it is.

We make stock from the animals we raise and process on our farm.

We make stock from the animals we raise and process on our farm.

It is healthy. There are numerous medical research studies showing that chicken soup really is healthy for you, but bone broth goes even one step further. The long, slow cooking releases many minerals making them bioavailable (meaning we can easily absorb them). It also provides a great source of gelatin, as mentioned above, which contains arthritis-relieving glucosamine and chondroitin.

Bone Broth simmers for a couple of days on the stovetop.

Bone Broth simmers for a couple of days on the stovetop.

It is easy to make… not quick to make, but it is pretty easy. This is slow food not fast food!

Let’s get to the specifics. On our farm, we freeze our poultry whole after we process them, but we rarely want to cook or roast the whole bird, so after we defrost them I break them down to breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings, etc. This leaves us with the ribs, backbone, and other bones that are difficult to utilize unless we make stock. We freeze these leftover parts until we have enough for a large batch of stock… or until we start running out of room in the freezer! I also save the chicken feet when we process our birds. Chicken feet have a lot of gelatin it in, so these are a great addition to the stock. I throw in a few big handfuls of roughly chopped onions and carrots, a head or two worth of peeled and crushed garlic cloves, a few stalks of celery, a fennel bulb, peppercorns, and some fresh or dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, etc. Any other spare vegetables can be thrown in; I’ve used parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, etc. I also add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar for every gallon of water. The vinegar helps extract the minerals from the bones.

Frozen, concentrated Bone Broth

Frozen, concentrated Bone Broth

I toss all the ingredients into my 62-quart stockpot (that’s 15.5 gallons or 58 liters), fill it up with cold water (I prefer the water from my Berkey filter), bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let it go for the next day or three. It fills the house with a wonderful aroma. Cooking time is variable, but I keep the stock simmering until the bones crumble when I squeeze them between my fingers. This may take 24 hours or 72 hours; it depends on the bones. I then strain the stock. I sometimes pick through and save the meat for fajitas or other meals, but everything else goes to our pigs. I put the strained stock into the refrigerator and allow it to cool. All the fat rises to the top, and I scoop this off for rendering (see my next article). The remaining stock is put back into a stockpot and simmered down or “reduced”… basically, some of the water is boiled off, and the stock gets thicker and thicker. This results in something like a demi-glace. I spoon this into ice cube trays and freeze them. I then dump the cubes into a freezer bag, and I have readily available, serving size, concentrated bone broth ready to go whenever I need it!

Bone Broth ingredients consists of things most people throw away nowadays.

Bone Broth ingredients consists of things most people throw away nowadays.

It uses things most people throw away. Specifically, and unashamedly, I am talking about all the bones, wingtips, necks, and feet of poultry, and the bones and joints of sheep and beef. These are parts of the animal that most people throw away, but our ancestors wisely saved. I have learned that when I raise an animal from hatch or birth, fed and watered it, checked on it once and sometimes twice or thrice a day, and then ended its life with my own hands, I have a strong desire not to waste anything.  We often use the word “process” to distance ourselves a bit, but the reality is that we are eating an animal that was alive. We treat every animal on our farm with the utmost respect. We give every animal the best and most natural life we can offer it. Our promise to our animals is that they only ever have one bad day. That respect continues after life, and we try not to “waste” any part of the animal. This was common sense a century ago. It’s how we make bone broth today.

 

Here is a great article about Bone Broth on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. It is written by Sally Fallon who I happened to briefly meet while visiting her farm a few years ago.

 

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Sheep Hoof Trimming

A few days ago, we took about an hour and trimmed the hooves of our sheep. We run a small, but growing, flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep. Anyone who keeps sheep or goats needs to check the animal’s hooves once a year at a minimum, but 2-3 times a year is probably more appropriate. If they are given a lot of supplemental feed (instead of just pasture) and/or they are regularly on wet, soft soil, then the hooves will need to be checked more frequently.

If an animal has hoof growth that is not kept in check with rocky soils or with regular trimming, then significant health problems can develop such as foot rot, foot scald, laminitis, and arthritis, to name a few.

Our sheep are relatively relaxed around us, so catching them and trimming their hooves was not too difficult. My wife and our current WOOFER (Eliza) were the ones who caught most of the sheep while I flipped them on their rump, sat down with them, and trimmed their hooves. Only one ewe evaded us over and over again, so we’ll have to try to catch her again on another day.

This was the first time I’ve ever trimmed sheep hooves, but it went very well. It was easier than I expected. My main bit of advice is to trim the hooves slowly and sparingly as you are figuring things out. If you are a little too aggressive, you can cause bleeding. If you are very aggressive, then you can cause significant bleeding or infection. If you are feel unsure of yourself, then go visit another sheep farm to get some experience first. Here are some resources I found helpful as I learned how to trim sheep hooves:

Article: http://www.sheep101.info/201/hoofcare.html

Article: http://www.raisingsheep.net/how-to-trim-sheep-hooves.html

and a couple videos…

 

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