Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes

( 5 )


An appealing exploration of fat in cooking — a component of food that’s newly fashionable — with recipes and culinary history.

Duck fat. Caul fat. Leaf lard. Bacon. Ghee. Suet. Schmaltz. Cracklings. Jennifer McLagan knows and loves culinary fat and you’ll remember that you do too once you get a taste of her lusty, food-positive writing and sophisticated comfort-food recipes. Dive into more than 100 sweet and savory recipes using butter, pork fat, poultry fat, and beef and lamb ...

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An appealing exploration of fat in cooking — a component of food that’s newly fashionable — with recipes and culinary history.

Duck fat. Caul fat. Leaf lard. Bacon. Ghee. Suet. Schmaltz. Cracklings. Jennifer McLagan knows and loves culinary fat and you’ll remember that you do too once you get a taste of her lusty, food-positive writing and sophisticated comfort-food recipes. Dive into more than 100 sweet and savory recipes using butter, pork fat, poultry fat, and beef and lamb fats, including Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Fennel and Rosemary, Risotto Milanese, Duck Rillettes, Bone Marrow Crostini, and Choux Paste Beignets. Scores of sidebars on the cultural, historical, and scientific facets of culinary fats as well as thirty-six styled food photos make for a plump, juicy, satisfying package for food lovers

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Editorial Reviews

Craig Seligman
Eat fat! That's a message I can get behind. In fact, Jennifer McLagan's substantial and by no means unserious Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes makes the same argument Michael Pollan created a stir with earlier this year in his much talked-about In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto: that the craze for animal-fat substitutes has damaged our health. Fat, it turns out, is a lot like TV—nourishing as long as it's not your whole diet…None of which would matter if her recipes weren't brilliant. Most of them aren't for neophytes, but they reward the effort.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Persuasively arguing that the never-ending quest for "health" has gone too far, McLagan's elegant and informed look at this most maligned ingredient is appropriately unctuous. A crucial part of our diets, fat not only provides health benefits but pure pleasure: few ingredients can carry flavor the way fat does. Breaking the topic down into categories (butter, pork, poultry, beef-and-lamb), McLagan carefully chooses recipes that showcase the role of fat in imparting and carrying flavor. Versatile butter adds richness to pastry dough, a sweet nuttiness to Brown Butter Ice Cream, thickens classic sauces and can be used to gently poach scallops. A classic BLT gets a jolt of flavor from bacon-fat mayonnaise, and sliced Yukon Gold potatoes cooked in duck fat are practically ambrosial. While there's a fair number of indulgent dishes (3-inch bone-in ribeyes served with a red wine sauce and roasted bone marrow, a pork-fat laden twist on peanut brittle), McLagan emphasizes flavor and application over decadence. Digressions like those on the history of Crisco, fat as an art medium and a thoughtful look at foie gras are welcome and enlightening. Her mixture of science, cultural anthropology and culinary imagination are intoxicating, making this a crucial work on the topic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher
“The appeal of Fat is the superb research McLagan has done on the area of fat. She explodes myths and talks history, facts and fiction with passion. Her thesis is that fat gives irreplaceable flavour to food and anyone who cuts fat from their diet loses taste and pleasure. But the book is more than that. It gives you the building blocks to understand the place of fat in our diet. It tells of cultural associations with fat and gives lots of tips. I cannot say that I always agree with her, but I hugely enjoyed reading the book, and controversy is always a flavour-enhancer.”
— Lucy Waverman, Globe and Mail

“Persuasively arguing that the never-ending quest for “health” has gone too far, McLagan’s elegant and informed look at this most maligned ingredient is appropriately unctuous…..Digressions like those on the history of Crisco, fat as an art medium and a thoughtful look at foie gras are welcome and enlightening. Her mixture of science, cultural anthropology and culinary imagination are intoxicating, making this a crucial work on the topic.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Jennifer McLagan’s substantial and by no means unserious Fat…furnishes information on rendering, deep and shallow frying, grating suet, preparing marrow and a host of similar topics, filling the book’s margins with fat-related anecdotes and lore. None of which would matter if her recipes weren’t brilliant. Most of them aren’t for neophytes, but they reward the effort.”
— Craig Seligman, New York Times Book Review

“There is this new book called, quite simply, Fat. How irresistible is that? Written by Jennifer McLagan and subtitled “an appreciation of a misunderstood ingredient,” it has more appeal than most, and deliciously follows the current (formerly politically incorrect) trend of revisiting some of those treasured ingredients that have fallen upon hard times.”
— Mark Bittman, New York Times

“Best of all are the recipes, more than 100 in all, for dishes that each sound more scrumptious from the last, including puff pastry, duck confit, sautéed foie gras, rillettes, shortbread, butter chicken, cassoulet and traditional plum pudding made with grated suet that McLagan champions for its versatility and texture-enhancing properties.”
— Lesley Chesterman, The Gazette (Montreal)

“Even in the niche-happy land of cookbook publishing, Jennifer McLagan’s latest title stands out. Fat collects dozens of gourmet recipes that span a variety of cuisines and food types, but they all share a judicious use of, well, fat. The book should be celebrated for providing an education as essential to cooking as its subject.”
— Shaun Smith, Quill & Quire

“A rollicking journey through the kingdom of unrepentant, glorious, and filthy rich fat. McLagan has a superb sense of balance on the plate….”
— T. Susan Chang, Boston Globe

“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 a smart, thoughtful book that ultimately asks us to understand our food better.”
— Michael Ruhlman

“McLagan's book is a smart, sensual celebration of the flavorful animal fats prized by chefs and shunned by a generation of lipo-phobes. Her French Fries in Lard may change your life forever.”— People Magazine

“An unapologetic celebration of its title ingredient and a compelling argument that explains not only why fat is a fundamental flavor but also fundamental to our health.”

“Mouth-watering is the only way to describe the recipes…The combination of traditional dishes from many countries with new creations – brown butter ice cream is just one – is likely to get anyone scurrying into the kitchen. Ms. McLagan's advocacy of animal fat as a vital ingredient that should not be a bogeyman has considerable merit.”
— Claire Hopley, Washington Post

“If obsessing over fat and calories is beginning to fall out of fashion, Jennifer McLagan is here to show the way. Along with wide ranging recipes, McLagan provides treatises on the history, the health benefits, and the uses of each type of fat. And along the way are engaging sidebars on fat-related cultural moments, literary epigrams and folk sayings.”

“Love crispy bacon, artisanal butters, flaky pastries? Be it butter or lard, fat is used by just about every culture to enhance the taste of food. Jennifer McLagan includes a variety of sweet and savory recipes that make the most of the frequently maligned ingredient.”
Bon Appetit Magazine

“The top of our holiday reading list is an extraordinary treatise on a much-maligned ingredient. Fat is the title and the sole topic of Jennifer McLagan's wide-ranging book…. It's one of those rare cookbooks that adds up to the culinary equivalent of a bodice ripper, packed with a ton of interesting social history and anecdotes that you'll want to read before jumping into the recipes.”
Vancouver Courier

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781580089357
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2008
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 338,895
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer McLagan has more than twenty-five years of experience in the food world. She has worked as a chef in London and Paris, as well as her native Australia. Her writing has appeared in many magazines, including Gourmet and Fine Cooking. McLagan’s previous book, Bones (2005), won a James Beard Award, a Gourmand World Cookbook Award, and was a finalist in the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Cookbook Awards. She lives in Toronto.

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Read an Excerpt


Serves 6 to 8

4 1/2 cups / 1 3/4 pounds / 800 g dried white (navy or Great Northern) beans, soaked overnight in cold water
2 onions
2 cloves
3 cloves garlic, peeled
6 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 pound / 225 g pork belly, skin on
1/2 pound / 225 g boneless lamb shoulder
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup / 1 3/4 ounces / 50 g duck fat
2 garlic pork sausages (about 10 1/2 ounces / 300 g total)
1/2 cup / 125 ml dry white wine
4 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 legs Duck Confi t (page 141)
1 1/4 cups / 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g fine fresh bread crumbs

This classic from southwestern France is a very contentious dish, and almost every town in the region has its own “genuine” cassoulet recipe. Some add lamb, others tomatoes. Some add both, and some believe that neither should be included. Then there are endless discussions on how to make the crust. As long as you begin with white beans and add fatty meats you’ll end up with a great-tasting dish. After all, it is just a bean stew.

Most cassoulet recipes serve 10 to 12 people. Maybe I am short of friends, but I think the best dinners are for 6 or 8. So I don’t have to eat leftover cassoulet all week, I’ve pared the recipe down. If you have more friends than me, or a big family, you can double it.

This is a rich dish, so I like to follow it with a spinach or watercress and orange salad topped with duck cracklings. You can, of course, sprinkle those cracklings over the cassoulet, too.

Drain the beans, discarding the soaking water. Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and skewer each half with a clove. Add to the pan with 2 of the garlic cloves, the thyme and parsley sprigs, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat, skim any foam from the surface, and discard. Simmer the beans, uncovered, until they are just tender, about 1 hour.

While the beans are cooking, remove the skin from the pork belly, cut into 1/2-inch / 1-cm squares, and set aside. Cut the pork belly into 1-inch / 2.5-cm pieces and the lamb into 1 1/2-inch / 4-cm pieces. Season the pork belly and lamb pieces with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the duck fat in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the pork belly and lamb and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate. Prick the sausages several times with a fork and add them to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and brown the sausages on all sides. Transfer the sausages to a plate and cut each sausage into 4 pieces.

Chop the remaining onion, add to the pan, and cook over low heat until softened. Add the remaining garlic and the wine and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes.

Remove the skin from the duck legs and set aside, then remove the meat from the bones in large pieces. Set the meat aside and discard the bones.

When the beans are cooked, drain them, reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the beans to a large bowl, discarding the onion halves and herbs.

Preheat the oven to 300°F / 150°C.

Stir the reduced tomato and onion mixture into the beans and season with salt and pepper, remembering that the confit will add some salt to the finished dish. Put about half the bean mixture in a large Dutch oven or casserole. Now place the pieces of pork skin, pork belly, lamb, and duck confit on top, making sure the different meats are well distributed.

Cover the meats with the remaining bean mixture and push the sausage pieces into the top bean layer so they almost disappear into the beans. Pour in enough of the reserved cooking liquid to come up almost to the top of the beans. Cover the surface of the cassoulet with about half of the bread crumbs and dot with pieces of the remaining duck fat.

Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours or until a golden crust has formed over the creamy textured beans. Three or four times during the cooking time, break the bread crumb crust with the back of a spoon and sprinkle the cassoulet with a few more tablespoons of bread crumbs. Also make sure the cassoulet is not becoming dry, adding more of the bean cooking liquid if necessary.

While the cassoulet is cooking, use the reserved duck skin to make poultry cracklings (see page 133).

Serve the cassoulet straight from the dish, making sure that everyone gets a little crust and beans and some of each of the meats.


Makes 1 round (about 12 wedges)

1 cup / 8 ounces / 225 g cold unsalted butter, diced, plus 1 teaspoon softened butter
1/2 cup / 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g superfine (caster) sugar
1 1/2 cups / 6 1/2 ounces / 185 g flour
1/2 cup / 2 ounces / 65 g rice flour
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon fleur de sel or granulated sugar (optional)

My grandmother emigrated from Scotland to Australia when she was eighteen. I’d love to say that she carried this recipe with her to pass on to the future generations on the other side of the world, but, no, we bought our shortbread (it was, however, imported from Scotland). My favorite shortbread is soft and almost crumbly, and that is what this recipe gives you. I have a collection of shortbread molds, but because I bake shortbread only once or twice a year, they don’t get enough use to work properly, and my shortbread always sticks. By baking the shortbread in a flan tin, however, I get a nice fluted edge, and it comes out in one piece. Instead of sprinkling the shortbread with sugar, try a little fleur de sel instead. The salt highlights the buttery flavor.

Using 1 teaspoon of softened butter, lightly butter the sides and bottom of a 9 or 9 1/2-inch / 23 or 24-cm flan tin with a removable bottom.

Combine the cold butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 15 seconds. Add both the flours and a pinch of salt and mix again on low until the dough comes together, 3 to 5 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and, on a floured surface, roll it into a 9-inch / 23-cm circle about 1/2 inch / 1 cm thick. Place the dough in the flan tin, patting it so that it evenly fills the tin. Using a fork, prick the dough all over, right through to the flan tin.

Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 300°F / 150°C.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with fleur de sel or sugar and place the flan tin on a baking sheet. Bake until the shortbread is just fitm in the center and beginning to color, about 1 hour.

Transfer the shortbread to a wire rack and, using a sharp knife, score the shortbread into wedges. Let cool. When cold, remove the shortbread from the flan tin and cut into wedges, following the marks. Store the shortbread in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: A Matter of Fat - 1

1 Butter: Worth It - 13

2 Pork Fat: The King - 67

3 Poultry Fat: Versatile and Good for You - 123

4 Beef and Lamb Fats: Overlooked but Tasty - 167

Bibliography - 219

Acknowledgments - 223

Index - 226

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 15, 2013

    Fun Cooking With Historical Lore

    After browsing though Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, I found myself making a giblet recipe that required lard to cover these little nibbles: it became like a lard dip. This book surely inspires such urges, and reminded me of the best of grandma, the no-nonsense exuberantly fat-loving doyenne of recipes, who turned the cheek in the face of urgent anti-fat hand-wringing. And she is right, and I was wrong for many years: while fat got an unfair bad rap over the past few decades from the low-fat diet apologists, the fact is fat is an important part of living as healthy a lifestyle as you can. And I noticed this too: I am not hungry or craving food, or eating lots of food.

    McLagan’s book stands out: a love letter to all the traditional fats that abound on God's world. A joyful romp through trivia, history (you can't miss the section where the ghastly margarine came from!), lore, and hands-on recipes. A compendium of knowledge largely lost to our generation, and a celebration of dishes both modern and historic.

    Have you ever wondered what the difference is between leaf lard and lardo? Do you know which fat is just the best for pastry and how to render it? Why does butter feel so luscious in your mouth? It’s all in there with her recipes and captivating photographs.

    Clearly, her book is the cry for all we yearn for. In her 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. Recipes have many varieties of spiced or flavored butters, puff pastry, butter sauces, buttered vegetables, a drooly-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.

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