Fat : An Appreciation of a Misunderstod Ingredient, with Recipes
By Jennifer McLagan
Ten Speed Press, 2008
While reading Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, I sometimes found myself padding into the kitchen and taking a spoonful or two of bright yellow raw butter from the fridge. This book can surely inspire such behavior, and reminded me of the best of Julia Child, the no-nonsense, down-to-earth, exuberantly fat-loving doyenne of French food, who shrugged in the face of urgent anti-fat hand-wringing. Julia Child, by the way, died two days before her 92nd birthday.
In a food culture known for its misplaced finger-wagging, McLagan’s book stands out. It’s a love letter, a sonnet, a worshipful ode to all the traditional fats that abound on the earth. It’s a joyful romp through your great grandmother’s recipe book, complete with trivia, history, lore, and practical hands-on information. It’s a compendium of knowledge largely lost to our generation, and a celebration of dishes both current and historic. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between leaf lard and lardo? Do you know which animal fat is the very best for pastry and how to render it? Why does butter feel so good in your mouth? It’s all in there, along with countless recipes and gorgeous foodie photographs.
Clearly, this is a book for which we’ve all been yearning. In McLagan’s world, carbs and proteins are the suitors to fat, the leading lady. They celebrate her beauty and allure, but aren’t meant to stand alone. I even laughed out loud when McLagan says, after detailing how to make the perfect roast beef sandwich, “you could add lettuce and tomato, but it does rather detract from the beefy experience.”
Recipes include many varieties of spiced or flavored butters, puff pastry, butter sauces, buttered vegetables, a wonderful looking buttered chicken recipe from India, pork cracklings, fat-laden terrine, pork belly, rosemary-flavored pork fat, french fries done in lard, plenty of bacon-based recipes, sausage, foie gras, several marrow recipes and lots of ideas for using duck, chicken and goose fat. There’s even a recipe for suet latte! McLagan uses butter, lard and goose or duck fat liberally in pastries and rich desserts which, if you give into temptation, will mitigate the effects of all that sugar and white flour.
Read. Revel. Enjoy the fresh air, and keep that butter coming. Thumbs up!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2009.