Friday, November 14, 2008

The Skinny On Fat - Cooking Techniques

Fat is probably an unfortunate name for Lipids but, Lipids isn't that cool a name either. Fat is an essential element in cooking and has an undeserved bad name. I would like to dispel a few misconceptions about fat in food:
1. Fat does NOT make you fat. For a normally healthy person the only thing that causes you to gain or retain weight is very simple - calories in minus calories out. All human life , and weight, depend on getting enough calories, including fat calories, to give you the required energy to run your power plant (body) and perform the given amount of work (calories used) you do each day. Over time if you consume more calories than you use you will gain weight PERIOD. Yes, Lipids (fat) have more calories than proteins of the same weight, but that doesn't mean they make you fat - it just means you have to consume the proper amount of calories based on your calorie usage. I will do another blog on NOT GETTING/BEING FAT. The thing to remember here is that Lipids do not make you Fat - more likely it is sugar in the American diet.
2. Fat is not bad for your heart or your cholesterol. Unsaturated fats like Olive Oil and to a lesser extent Canola Oil are actually GOOD for your heart and Cholesterol. I could go on for a long time here but let me just simplify it. Use ONLY the following types of fat, in moderation and you will be heart healthy: Olive Oil (for low/no heat/want the flavor applications), Canola Oil for all high heat and salad dressings, Grapeseed oil (for flavored oils - an advanced topic), and specific animal fats (butter, milk fat, duck fat, fat on certain cuts of meat and fish) in moderation for the flavors they bring and the mouth feel so essential to satisfying, and therefore healthy, eating. All those other fats/oils -GET RID OF THEM and don't eat processed foods period. The REALLY BAD FATS are Saturated fats other the the above (the animal fats above are saturated but are essential even if not the best for you), Hydrogenated fats (see processed foods), Trans fats, corn oil (the average American gets WAY TO MUCH corn in their diet because of modern agribusiness and process foods. Just stay away for non animal fats except the ones I mention and you will not be missing anything but bad stuff.
3. You cannot substitute low fat alternatives in a recipe. Recipes that call for fat NEED IT for the various IMPORTANT reasons to do with flavor , balance, mouth feel, as well as, for thickening qualities in sauces, or other applications. You cannot substitute milk for cream in a sauce, nor can you substitute most fake butters for butter - the food won't "set up" properly and will not taste as it should. If you need to cut calories eat recipes that don't use fat (we have lightly dressed,salad every night as part of the calories in), eat the recipe less often, o eat a smaller portion, or exercise more that day - those are good ways to "cut fat".
4. All fats have exactly the same number of calories per gram of fat. Yes, it is true - all fat is created equal - a gram of light olive oil is exactly the same calories as a gram of lard. In fact things like butter may have less fat per volume because they have a high water content whereas many fats are 100% fat by volume. See points 1 and 2 above.
5. Using FAT FREE or Low Fat processed "substitute" products is actually worse for your health and weight than using the proper fats. Guess what, they put really NASTY, UNHEALTHY chemical additives, fillers in these products to give them the mouth feel, and texture that they remove with the fat. Read the labels and Be AFRAID. See the last sentence of point number 3 if you think you have to have Fat Free substitutes for real fats in your food. There are plenty of foods low in fat and calories naturally - eat them. But if you want and item that calls for fat USE REAL FAT.

When it comes to using fats in foods there are a couple of very important things that most people either don't know or have not thought enough about to really raise their cooking to the next level:
1. Fats have various taste profiles. Some fats are high in flavor and thus you are going to taste that flavor in the food you eat. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. It all depends on what you want to happen. Olive oil has a lot of "olive oil flavor", grapeseed oil, and to a slightly lessor extent canola oil have no flavor of their own. Thus, in the vegetable fat world you choose your oil based upon whether you want the flavor to come from the oil or from what it is being used on. If you are not sure the recipe is a good place to start - if it calls for a flavored oil use that type, if not don't. Animal fats tend to carry a lot of flavor - this is a good thing when it comes to butter, cream, duck fat, pork fat, beef fat, but can be a bad thing when it comes to lamb fat and game animals. The secret here is limit the amount of fat you introduce into the cooking of these "strong/not enjoyable" animal fats. For example I always trim almost all of the fat off lamb before cooking.
2. Fats solidify at various temperatures. Fats that solidify at or below body temperature are going to make you look like a much better cook than those that don't. Why? Solidified fat does not taste yummy in your mouth - it tastes greasy, sticky, and kind of yucky. If the fat dissolves at or below "mouth temperature" it is going to taste rich, smooth, yummy. Let me give you some contrasts: butter ( and lard) melts starting around 85 degrees whereas Crisco melts at 117 degrees. If you make your pie crust out of butter it is guaranteed to have a great smooth mouth feel - cold pie made with Crisco is going to taste a little greasy. In the animal world duck fat (the undisputed king of animal body fat for cooking) melts at 57 degrees, chicken are pork at mouth temperature, beef requires 113 degrees (why steak houses serve it HOT!), and lamb is way above that (trim fat off lamb before serving even if you want a lamby taste).
3. Fats flavor can be introduced during cooking and then most of the fat removed for final preparation in any "long" cooking recipe where the fat is rendered during cooking. Braises, stews, chili, soups, even roasts can be greatly improved in flavor by leaving the fat on during the cooking process. Many cooks trim the fat off chicken, duck, or meats before cooking them. You can greatly raise your flavor profile by leaving on the fat and removing most of it at the end of the process. In a braise or stew for example leave the fat on the meat and long , slow cook with stock, vegetables, herbs. After the braise is done do the following three things to raise your meal to a whole new level: First pour off all the liquid into a separating measuring cup (the ones with the sloping bottom and usually a plug that goes in the spout) and separate and discard the fat. Second, just compost all those nice veggies and herbs, they have already given all their flavor to the meat. Use a big pot of boiling salted water (see my blog on water) to cook, then shock in cold water, some nice new veggies to the perfect degree of doneness. Use the stock (the non fat part of the cooking liquid) and some fresh herbs maybe some wine, or lemon juice or cream to make your sauce (see Amy's More than Gourmet Fond blog if you need more volume of stock) DEGLASING the yummy bits sticking to the bottom of the pan if roasting with the initial shot of liquid. You will come out with a very clean, great mouth feel, great flavor stew or meat with veggies on the side.

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