Caul fat is a membrane that encases the digestive organs of some animals. The particular caul fat used for cooking comes from pigs, sheep, cows, and sometimes venison. It's used as casing for other meat preparations like sausages, or to cover meat patties or meatballs. Because it doesn't render, it's mostly used as a casing to wrap foods.
What Is Caul Fat?
Anatomically speaking, caul fat is the thin, lacy membrane of an animal surrounding the internal organs, known as the greater omentum. In the culinary world, the animal from which it comes is usually a pig, but the caul fat of other animals is also available. This type of fat is sometimes called lace fat, fat netting, omental fat, or crépine, its French name. Thin and lacy, and very similar to a web of netting, caul fat is widely used in French charcuterie, providing sausages and cured meats with a succulent flavor and additional moisture.
How to Cook With Caul Fat
Fresh caul fat may be pink with a bold, somewhat foul odor and needs to be processed before cooking or freezing. Rinse the lacy net with water to clean the fat and eliminate the smell by putting it in a bowl of cold water with white vinegar or lemon juice. Then rinse and soak it again in plain cold water. Pat the caul fat dry with a towel before use. Caul fat, cleaned and ready to use, consists of a stringy web of fatty membranes over a thin transparent sheet of fat with a pronounced porky aroma and flavor.
Once cleaned and dried, caul fat's unique construction makes it ideal to use as a wrapper for sausages, pâtés, and other forcemeats. Classical French charcuterie features a number of preparations that consist of a filling wrapped in caul fat. These items are usually called crépinettes.
What Does Caul Fat Taste Like?
The flavor of the caul fat depends on which animal it comes from and what the animal was fed when alive. In general, it is safe to say that caul fat has a mild and sweet flavor, a great enhancer of the flavors of other meats, but not an overpowering taste. In the case of pork, the most used of caul fats, it tastes mildly like bacon.
Caul Fat vs. Other Animal Fats
From a culinary standpoint, there are three basic types of pig fat or lard: fatback, leaf lard, and caul fat. While each has its own particular characteristics and best uses, it is safe to say that caul fat is the most distinctive. Though fatback is a hard slab of fat from the back of the animal, and leaf lard is the soft fat surrounding visceral organs like the kidneys, they both are sizable deposits of fat that can be rendered into soluble fat, then used as a cooking medium or ingredient. Because of its flavor profile, fatback is generally more suited for savory cooking while leaf lard is especially prized for pastry.
Caul fat, on the other hand, is not renderable and is not used as an ingredient, per se. In fact, it is used primarily—if not exclusively—as a wrapper or edible cooking package for a larger cut of meat, meatloaf, pâté, or fish, or to encase ground smaller ingredients, like in a forcemeat or sausage. Most importantly, besides wrapping its contents, the caul fat also melts as it cooks, contributing additional flavor and moistness to whatever is inside.
Caul Fat Recipes
Caul fat need not be limited to little packages. Because of its natural netting capabilities and the fact that the fat gradually melts and bastes as it cooks, it is ideal to wrap around a meatloaf, roulade, large meatballs, pâté, lean meats like loin of pork, organ meats such as kidneys, or even firm and meaty seafood, such as cod, monkfish, halibut, or sea scallops. Employing caul fat in this way is essentially a form of barding (for example, bacon-wrapped food) except that you won't need any toothpicks or kitchen twine: the caul will cling to the meat (and itself) all on its own, similar to plastic wrap.
Small or medium size patties or small cylindrical bundles covered in caul fat are typically roasted, grilled, or sautéed. As the bundle cooks, like in the case of crépinettes, the caul fat melts away, adding moisture and flavor to the forcemeat and creating a nice little package at the same time. Try wrapping your favorite meatloaf or fish in caul fat before baking it, or make a different version of a delicious chateaubriand, wrapped in this flavorful fat.
Where to Buy Caul Fat
Finding caul fat can be a challenge. Your best bet is to inquire at a local butcher shop, especially if they do their own fabricating (breaking large pieces down into littler ones) and put in a request. If you are unable to find caul fat at a local butcher shop, another option is to buy it online. While you might have to get a fairly large amount of it, you can keep the excess caul fat in the freezer until you are ready to use it.
Storing Caul Fat
Caul fat can be kept in the freezer for six months or more. If possible, store small half-pound packages of caul fat in airtight plastic bags, using what you need without thawing the rest. Caul fat is very perishable and, when not frozen, should be used within three days.