Cooking With Caul Fat

Caul fat

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If you are exploring the idea of the French charcuterie, or sausage-making, you may have come across “caul fat” as an ingredient. Caul fat is one of the three varieties of lard and is a lacy membrane of fat that surrounds the stomach and other digestive organs of animals such as cows, sheep, and pigs. It's sometimes called fat netting, and in France, it is often referred to as crépine.

Caul fat has a stringy texture (which makes it difficult to render) and a pronounced porky flavor. Its unique construction makes it ideal to function as a wrapper for sausages and forcemeats.

The Three Lard Varieties

There are three varieties of lard that can be obtained from the carcass of a hog—pork fatback, leaf lard, and caul fat—and each has its own particular characteristics and best uses. When generally referring to lard, fatback is the common variety. Fatback has a distinct porky flavor, and it's great for making sausages. Leaf lard is something of a delicacy; it has a very neutral flavor, and when rendered it is probably the best type of shortening for making pie crusts.

Caul fat is the third type of lard. The lacy membrane encases the digestive organs of the animal and is extremely delicate. It is not usually used as a fat that needs to be rendered since there is so little of it. Instead, it is utilized for its casing capabilities.

Cooking With Caul Fat

The classical French tradition of charcuterie features a number of items that consist of some type of filling wrapped in caul fat. These items are called crépinettes and they can be shaped like patties or small cylindrical bundles. Cooking crépinettes is usually done on the grill. During the cooking, the caul fat will melt away, by which time the forcemeat within will be cooked and will continue to hold its shape. The fat also adds moisture and flavor to the forcemeat as it cooks. 

But caul fat shouldn't be limited to French sausage; because of its natural netting capabilities, and the fact that it is fat and will slowly melt, it is ideal to wrap around lean meats—or even a meatloaf—before cooking. In addition to the fact that you won't need to baste while it roasts, you also won't need any toothpicks or kitchen twine since the caul will cling to the meat all on its own. When employed this way, it's essentially a form of barding or wrapping meat in a layer of fat before roasting. Try it the next time you make a large roulade or even an entire roast. 

If you are making sausage of any kind, caul fat is the perfect casing. And if you tend to wrap bacon around your pates and terrines, next time swap it out for caul fat; it will be lighter and less greasy. 

Buying 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 (a fancy word in butcher-ese that means "cutting up"). They might not have any on hand, but if you put in a request, they may be able to save it for you. If you are unable to find caul fat at a local butcher shop, another option is to buy it online from specialty stores and butchers. You can store the frozen caul fat in the freezer until you are ready to use it. 

Caul fat is a thin membrane of abdominal fat that’s used in the culinary arts to wrap forcemeats, like a sausage casing, and for barding roulades and roasts.