What is Caul Fat?
What is caul fat and why would you use it? From a culinary perspective, caul fat is a magical ingredient which can elevate the normal to the extravagant. It is a beautiful, lace-like membrane (some people actually call it “lace fat”) used to add moisture, impart flavor, and help hold a desired shape in a variety of preparations. The flavor and moisture it brings to a preparation is due to the fat which slowly renders during cooking, essentially basting the dish until done. It can be used both as a type of “casing” and/or as a type of barding.
From an anatomy perspective, caul fat is a web-like membrane which surrounds the intestines of animals including pigs, veal, beef, and lamb. Pork caul fat is generally the favorite among chefs because it has the most fat, the most intricate pattern, the best consistency, and of course, that faint hint of a bacon flavor. Beef caul is the next most used caul fat, while sheep or lamb is the least utilized due to its coarser texture with more “lumps” of fat.
It is estimated that caul fat is about 90% fat and as such it acts as a way to baste whatever it is wrapped around, adding additional flavor because we all know that fat = flavor. And the membrane part acts as a type of casing to hold the meat in place, sealing in the heat and juices. Since it is mostly a delicate fat, the process of cooking will cause most of the caul fat to render away.
What can you make with caul fat?
In the traditional sense it is used for old school classics such as terrines, ballotines, sausages, galantines, pâtés, and crépinettes. However, caul fat also works exceptionally well when used to wrap stuffed meats. Game meats tend to be very lean and can be “dry”, but if you wrap them in caul fat and then sear or roast them they will retain a greater degree of natural juices plus the added benefit of fat from the caul and will therefore be more moist.
When ready to begin cooking with caul fat, bring it up to room temperature (this will make it pliable as cold fat can be hard and brittle), use a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Lay out the lacey material and go to work! You can cut it to any size/shape you need, and it is very easy to work with. It naturally “attaches” to itself, so the need for butcher’s twine, toothpick, etc is not necessary, which is another good reason to use caul fat instead of those items to bind your preparations. The end result will have no indents from string, no punctures from toothpicks or skewers, and speed of service is increased because you do not need to remove string or picks.
Other possible uses:
- Wrap your meatloaf in it to add additional richness, or form a unique shape
- Wrap duck breast, pheasant, or lamb
- Wrap Havarti cheese mash potatoes (or other flavor), form into cakes and deep fry for a cool side
- Top halibut with a crab-smoked salmon forcemeat, wrap in caul fat, sear and roast
- Combine an Indian Harvest Rice blend with veggies, wrap in caul fat, sear and roast as a side dish
- Combine crab mac & cheese, wrap in caul, sear, fry
What to look for
Most chefs prefer to work with pork caul fat because it is more delicate and renders to almost nothing during cooking. The caul should be mostly white. Sometimes it does have an “offal” aroma, if so, it is recommended to soak it in a little vinegar water. It freezes well so buy extra if you come across it. Simply wrap in plastic wrap and foil, or vacuum seal, and freeze for up to two months. Thaw in the cooler or refrigerator overnight when ready to use. Once thawed, use it within about 3 days.
For the Chef, your meat vendor should be able to source it for you. Sysco currently stocks it (demand status 2/2011) so I assume other broad band suppliers such as FSA, US Foods, etc also have access to caul fat. For the home cook, it can be more tricky because you’re not going to find it in your local supermarket. You can try talking to your supermarket butcher to see if they have a source for it, or check your local area for a professional butcher shop. Asian markets occasionally stock it. You can purchase it on Amazon.com (Caul Fat Pork – 10 Lb Case Frozen) as well as other online distributors. Check the pack size as some will only ship a 10 lb unit.
What does Caul Fat taste like?
If you’re afraid that it is going to be like some kind of offal meat, requiring an “educated” or “adventuresome” palate, then put your worries aside. The flavor is very mild and is similar to what the “belly fat” from whatever animal the caul is from, which means that pork caul will taste mildly like bacon.
Ready to give cooking with caul fat a shot? Here are a few recipes to get you started:
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