An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes
Publication Date: September 1, 2008
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For all of history, minus the last thirty years, fat has been at the center of human diets and cultures. When scientists theorized a link between saturated fat and heart disease, industry, media, and government joined forces to label fat a greasy killer, best avoided. But according to Jennifer McLagan, not only is our fat phobia overwrought, it also hasn’t benefited us in any way. Instead it has driven us into the arms of trans fats and refined carbohydrates, and fostered punitive, dreary attitudes toward food–that wellspring of life and pleasure.
In Fat, McLagan sets out with equal parts passion, scholarship, and appetite to win us back to a healthy relationship with animal fats. She starts by defusing fat’s bad rap, both reminding us of what we already know–that fat is fundamental to the flavor of our food–and enlightening us with the many ways fat (yes, even animal fat) is indispensable to our health.
Mostly, though, Fat is about pleasures–the satisfactions of handling good ingredients skillfully, learning the cultural associations of these primal foodstuffs, recollecting and creating personal memories of beloved dishes, and gratifying the palate and the soul with fat’s irreplaceable savor. Fat lavishes the reader with more than 100 recipes from simple to intricate, classic to contemporary, including:
• Butter-Poached Scallops
• Homemade Butter
• Duck Confit
• Sautéed Foie Gras with Gingered Vanilla Quince
• Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut with Sage Butter
• Steak and Kidney Pie
• Lamb Fat and Spinach Chapati
• Bacon Spice
• Salted Butter Tart
Observing that though we now know everything about olive oil, we may not know what to do with lard or bone marrow, McLagan offers extensive guidance on sourcing, rendering, flavoring, using, and storing animal fats, whether butter or bacon, schmaltz or suet. Stories, lore, quotations, and tips touching on fat’s place in the kitchen and in the larger culture round out this rich and unapologetic celebration of food at its very best.
JENNIFER McLAGAN is a chef and sought-after food stylist and writer who has worked in London and Paris as well as her native Australia. Her first book, Bones (2005), was widely acclaimed, winning the James Beard award for single subject food writing. She is a regular contributor to Fine Cooking and Food & Drink. She has lived in Toronto for more than twenty-seven years with her sculptor husband, Haralds Gaikis, with whom she escapes to Paris as often as possible. On both sides of the Atlantic, Jennifer maintains friendly relations with her butchers, who put aside their best fat and bones for her.
THE AUTHOR SCOOP
What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
Wondering if anyone other than your editor will read it.
Gin and tonic in the summer but it must be Hendricks with a slice of cucumber. In winter an Americano – red martini, campari, soda and a slice of lemon.
What food could you not live without?
Fat of course - all sorts of animal fat.
Name the most horrifying dish that your mother used to make.
Tripe in white sauce onions – I hated it. Now I love tripe but not in white sauce.
How did you learn to cook?
My first introduction was taking a course in French language. The course was taught by cooking French recipes written in French, so I have lots of food and cooking vocabulary.
“Pork, poultry, beef, butter: here is a delicious ode to fat in its many forms and functions. From bacon baklava to beurre blanc, Jennifer McLagan proves that all fat is not created equal, and that eating healthfully should not be an exercise in self-denial.”
–Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurant
“Like cars, we all need lubrication, except ours is ideally taken in the form of pork fat. Fat is where the flavor lies. What a treat this book is–a proper celebration of the good bits.”
–Fergus Henderson, author of The Whole Beast
“I love this book! There are very few cookbooks published today that add something truly new and distinctive to the literature of food and cooking. Jennifer McLagan’s Fat is smart and thoughtful–it ultimately asks us to understand our food better.”
–Michael Ruhlman, coauthor of Charcuterie
“Hurrah! Jennifer McLagan joins the charge to restore honest-to-goodness fat to its rightful place in our kitchens and culture, and she does so intelligently, insightfully, and deliciously. Her new book, Fat, is a must in any serious cook’s library.”
–Molly Stevens, author of All About Braising