Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Book Review: Fat – An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes

In Books on February 23, 2010 at 6:48 am


From SUZY’S BLOG

Healthy eating. We all know what that means: no added salt, no added sugar, no added fats. We know it, and it makes us grimace. If I were forced to that awful diet, my first step would be to caramelize a heaping mound of onions. I crave for those added chemical wonders that make food sparkle.

Well, to be accurate, it’s the first two I think I need: salt and sugar. It’s elemental that salt adds a new dimension to food. And sugar. I do love the crinkly sweetness of granulated, the seductive smoothness of confectioners, and the molasses underpinnings of browns. I have to have all those.

But fat? Ah, it’s easier to dispense with fat. Think about it, fat is not pleasant. Imagine a piece of bacon streaked with that opaque, sticky substance that does not even taste good. It’s hard to put in your mouth.

Uh, actually, oh dear, it’s the other way around. It’s good to put in your mouth. It can be very good. And fat includes butter. Certainly all those combinations of butter and chocolate we bake are essential for human life.

So, just how are we to think about fat? Why do we have such a schizophrenic view of fat and how did we all get to this point? Jennifer McLagan has appetizing answers in her wonderful new book, Fat, An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient with Recipes.

Fat is a marvelous encyclopedia about this most abused ingredient. I don’t often read the introduction in a cook book, but this one is different. McLagan deftly and succinctly tackles key questions: what is fat actually, what fats are truly good and truly bad for you, what is the history of fat in the kitchen, how did fat lose it luster, and why is it important for us all to cook with fat now?

Fat convincingly tells us that when well used and consumed in the right proportions, fat is essential and necessarily good for us. Cooking with real animal fat produces food that tastes better, food that we naturally consume less of, and food that far better meets our nutritional needs.

McLagan states that, “Eating is essential to life… It should be a happy experience, not a tortuous one.” She offers four recipe-filled chapters devoted to the key animal fats that we’ve been pushing aside for decades: butter, pork fat, poultry fat, and beef and lamb fats. Each chapter has a bevy of side notes with added detail and history. The book entices you to read it, and, once you have, you will be a fat expert and a fat convert.

You will also be a satisfied eater. Suzen and I sampled some savory recipes and had delicious results. The Simple Roast Chicken instantly reminds you of Paris. The Poached Shrimp with Beurre Blanc and Spinach will, for just a moment, induce fantasies of opening up your own restaurant. With taste this good, how could you fail?

Fat is such a wonderful book that it stays on our counter top. We’ve more recipes marked to explore. With snow on the ground already at our weekend home, Fat is where we turn for warmth, comfort, and exceptional taste.
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