The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat

The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612129136
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 11/13/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 364,744
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Andrea Chesman is the author of The Fat Kitchen as well as many other cookbooks that focus on traditional techniques and fresh-from-the-garden cooking. Her previous books include The Pickled PantryServing Up the Harvest101 One-Dish Dinners, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and gives cooking demonstrations and classes across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.

Michael Ruhlman is the author of The Elements of Cooking, The Soul of a Chef, and The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, among others.

Read an Excerpt


A Little Chemistry, A Little Biology

The word "fat" has many meanings. It can be a disparaging adjective to describe an overweight person; it can be an approving adjective, as in describing a well-supplied bank account. "Fat" is also a noun, a substance found in foods and in our bodies. It can be invisible, as in, say, avocados, or visible, as in a well-marbled steak. It can be a cooking medium, as in a liquid like corn oil or a solid like lard.

We associate fat — the cooking medium and the fat in foods — with the fat that accumulates on our bodies. This has been an association that has been drummed into our heads by the medical and dietary establishment for more than sixty years. It seems so obvious, no?


It is time to take a peek behind the science of healthy eating.


To a chemist, all edible fats and oils are lipids, and they are all basically the same, even though in the kitchen we often say oils are liquids and fats are solids at room temperature. The simplest definition is that all fats and oils — all lipids — are biological chemicals that do not dissolve in water, which is why they rise to the top of liquids, allowing us, for example, to skim the fat off the tops of soups and stews, if we want to.

On the molecular level, these biological chemicals are chains of fatty acids, divided into two broad categories: saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids (the building blocks of saturated fat) are chains of carbon atoms with pairs of hydrogen atoms joined at each link with a single bond. They are saturated with hydrogen atoms, leaving them no room to bond with other atoms. This makes them stable and allows the fatty acids to pack together tightly, which causes them to be solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fatty acids (the building blocks of unsaturated fat), on the other hand, are chains of carbon atoms that have some double bonds between links with gaps where the hydrogen atoms are missing. If one hydrogen atom is missing, the fat is monounsaturated; if more than one hydrogen atom is missing, the fat is polyunsaturated. These fatty acid chains are unsaturated with hydrogen atoms and contain open bonds that easily bind with oxygen. Monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, have only one open link; polyunsaturated fats, like corn oil, have more than one open link.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and readily bind with oxygen, because of those open bonds. When exposed to heat or air, an unsaturated fat oxidizes, allowing oxygen molecules to bind to its open bonds. A fully oxidized fat is rancid. The more available a fatty acid is to binding with oxygen, the easier it is for it to become rancid.

No Fat Is Totally Saturated

The idea that animal fats are all saturated fats, that olive oil is all monounsaturated fat, and that vegetable seed oils are completely devoid of saturated fat is a gross oversimplification. The truth is that many animal fats have a high percentage of monounsaturated fats, bringing them close to olive oil in terms of fatty acid content. Butter is about 63 percent saturated fat, beef suet contains about 41 percent saturated fat, lard is about 39 percent saturated fat, and chicken fat is about 30 percent saturated fat. So when we say that animal fats are made up of saturated fats, it is important to understand that each animal fat is made up of some saturated and some unsaturated fats, and most of that unsaturated fat is the so-called good kind — monounsaturated fat. The proportion of saturated and unsaturated fats varies among the different fats and oils.

As you can see from the grapic on page 000, lard, poultry fats, and beef fat are all relatively high in monounsaturated fats. It is the monounsaturated fats that health professionals agree are the most healthy to consume, because they can help reduce the so-called bad cholesterol (LDL) levels (more on that later) in your blood, and thereby lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. So if you look at corn oil, which is touted as healthy because it is high in polyunsaturated fat, note that it is relatively low in monounsaturated fat, compared to beef tallow, lard, or any poultry fat.

By the way, much of the monounsaturated fat found in animal fats is oleic fatty acid, which is also found in olive oil and associated with decreasing LDL cholesterol, thus lowering "bad" cholesterol.

How an Oil is Processed Matters

Canola oil and olive oil are the two oils that are highest in monounsaturated fats, but where olive oil is often cold pressed (as virgin or extra-virgin olive oil), canola oil is chemically extracted from rapeseeds, then bleached and deodorized. In the process, it is subjected to high heat, which destroys the vitamins and any antioxidants it may have originally contained. In addition, 90 percent of the rapeseed crop (the seed from which canola oil is extracted) is grown from GMO seeds. To my mind, this calls into question the whole idea that canola oil is a healthy choice — for the planet, if not for ourselves. (To be fair, I note that you can buy canola oil that is cold pressed from organically grown, non-GMO seeds, but it is quite expensive compared to the standard supermarket brands.

Also, whereas the smoke point of refined canola oil is 400°F, which makes it suitable for deep-frying and other high-heat applications, the smoke point of unrefined canola oil is 225°F, making it suitable only for salad dressings or other uncooked preparations.)

Unless a vegetable seed oil is cold pressed, it goes through a process where a solvent such as hexane is used to maximize oil extraction. The refined oil is then mixed with a powdered bleaching agent, which binds to the unwanted substances left in the oil, and then is filtered out. At this point, the oil has a disagreeable odor, so it must be further processed. To deodorize, the oil is heated to a high temperature and pretty much any remaining components other than fat are distilled off (including antioxidants). This refining process leaves edible oils devoid of the majority of their natural nutrients and damaged due to exposure to high heat. Exposure to high heat makes all fats and oils prone to becoming rancid — whether you can taste it or not.

If It 's Rancid, Throw it Out!

Remember those unstable bonds in polyunsaturated fats? As the fatty acids bind to oxygen, the fatty acids break down, becoming rancid. A significantly rancid fat has a distinctive flavor and odor, which some describe as paintlike or grassy. It smells like turpentine to me. And it isn't only oils that become rancid. Rancidity happens in grains and nuts, too. Think about tasting a cracker from a box that has been sitting on the shelf for too long. That "stale" taste is rancidity. Rancid odors and flavors are found throughout the food chain, and one concern is that Americans are so used to eating rancid foods that either they don't recognize the flavor of rancidity or they eat rancid foods anyway out of a misplaced sense of thrift.

All fats can become rancid. Any fatty acid chain that is unsaturated can become oxidized, meaning the carbon-carbon double bond in the structure can be broken by oxygen in the air, forming a carbon-oxygen bond. When this carbon-oxygen bond breaks down, aldehydes, ketones, or carboxylic acids are formed; these are the compounds that produce rancid odors and flavors. Rates of oxidation are speeded up in the presence of light and heat, which is why you should always store cooking oils in tinted bottles in a dark cupboard with the cap secured and store cooking fats in the refrigerator.

The more polyunsaturated an oil is, the faster it can become rancid. Flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, and corn oil will become rancid faster than other oils. The potential for animal fats to become rancid is much less, because of their lower percentage of polyunsaturated fats. That large clear plastic bottle of corn oil sitting on a kitchen counter near the stove has ample time to be exposed to light and heat and become rancid. So, too, does that canning jar of saved bacon fat that is added to and subtracted from over the years (better to keep it in the fridge). Note that in the olden days, that bacon fat was likely stored in an old tin can, which at least blocked the light.

What's so bad about rancid fats? Rancidity reduces the vitamin content the fats and oils may have had originally. More dangerously, rancid fats and oils can develop potentially toxic compounds that have been linked to inflammation, advanced aging, neurological disorders, heart disease, and cancer. Inflammation is the underlying issue in many chronic diseases, including heart disease, which is something to think about. Inflammation is also linked to diabetes, arthritis, and countless immune system disorders. Given how much potentially toxic compounds we are exposed to in our environment, it makes sense to limit it in our foods.

The shelf life of polyunsaturated vegetable oils is about 6 months in an unopened bottle, and 1 to 3 months once the bottle is opened. Some specialty oils, such as sesame, walnut, and flaxseed, have shorter usable lives. That does not stop supermarkets and big box stores from offering gallon jugs of oil for cooking.

The shelf life of home-rendered poultry fats (chicken, geese, duck) is about 4 months in the refrigerator and much longer in the freezer. The shelf life of beef and pork fats is about 12 months in the refrigerator and much longer in the freezer. Like seed oils, animal fats will not go moldy (unless dirty spoons are used for scooping), but they will become rancid over time.

Here's the thing to remember about rancidity: It is a process. It is not like your foods are not rancid one day, and rancid the next. They are always in a state of becoming rancid, but you just might not detect it.

Rancid fats and oils can develop potentially toxic compounds that have been linked to inflammation, advanced aging, neurological disorders, heart disease, and cancer.

I've read a lot of blog posts about people who keep their fats at room temperature and never notice a rancid smell. I don't want to be a scaremonger, but surely a better idea would be to store the fat in the refrigerator, or freezer, or at least in a cool root cellar, where it is exposed to less heat and light. I've also read about people canning their rendered fat in a pressure canner or hot-water bath. Besides the fact that the USDA has not developed any safe times for home canning of animal fats, it seems unwise to further expose the fat to heat, thus encouraging more rancidity.

By the way, when vegetable seed oils are heated, there is a release of high concentrations of aldehydes, which is the same as what happens when oils become rancid. Heated sunflower oil and corn oil release into the air aldehydes at levels twenty times higher than the limit recommended by the World Health Organization. So repeated frying in any vegetable oil means the food and air venting from the fryer is increasingly contaminated with aldehydes, which are linked to causing cancer, dementia, and inflammatory diseases. The best restaurants change their frying oil every day, but many smaller mom-and-pop eateries — and people who own electric deep-fryers — do not.


I'm not a scientist, or a health professional, but here is what I understand about the health effects of animal fats and vegetable seed oils: I am not recommending a high-fat diet. I am not recommending that you enjoy Duck Fat Caramelized Popcorn (page 000), Lithuanian Bacon Rolls (page 000), or Cheese Crackers (page 000) on a daily basis. I am not recommending a steady diet of French Fries (page 000), Fried Chicken (page 000), and Spaghetti alla Carbonara (page 000). Nor do I think every dinner deserves dessert, though I have a chapter filled with them. But if you are making a pie anyway, why not use lard or tallow instead of shortening or instead of buying a refrigerated crust? And if you are making a healthy stir-fry, why not replace the peanut oil with lard, tallow, or a poultry fat?

Evidence has been accumulating for years that the recent shift from animal fats to polyunsaturated vegetable oils has not been healthy for us (see Resources). While some of health problems that have arisen can be attributed to the way low-fat diets inevitably become high-carb diets, there is a good deal of evidence that industrially produced vegetable seed oils are a poor dietary choice. But that information has not yet been widely disseminated. Indeed, the latest dietary guidelines, released by the federal government in 2015, still encourage the consumption of polyunsaturated fats.

People have been eating animal fats for millions of years, as a source of calories and flavor; we have evolved eating them. When medical researchers noticed a rise in heart disease in America in the twentieth century, they looked to diets for the cause. They didn't look for a relationship between processed foods and heart disease. The researchers were specifically looking for a positive correlation between meat consumption and heart disease, so they found it. The idea that eating fatty meat leads to high cholesterol levels, which leads to heart disease, was so appealingly logical that studies that contradicted this neat little theory were disregarded.

The rise in heart disease rates also paralleled another major shift in the diet: the increased consumption of vegetable seed oils made from corn, soybeans, rapeseed (canola), and cottonseed. Up until this point, the only oil used in traditional diets was olive oil. Seed oils were used for making soap, but not for cooking because they became rancid too quickly or they didn't taste good. Corn oil wasn't even invented until 1908; canola oil didn't hit U.S. markets until 1978. Compared to animal fats, vegetable seed oils are a very, very recent introduction to our diet — and their health impact was not studied before their introductions.

Enter Crisco

In 1911, Procter & Gamble solved the problem of keeping cottonseed oil from becoming rancid at room temperature by hydrogenating the oil, or adding hydrogen molecules to the cottonseed fatty acids. Heavily promoted as a purer, healthier, more convenient product than lard, Crisco was quickly adopted because it was an alternative to an unregulated meat industry that made a regular practice of adulterating lard, often with cottonseed oil. Crisco also replaced lard and butter in a lot of baked goods and processed foods because it allowed packaged baked goods to remain fresher longer (think of the Twinkie). Was it healthier than lard as it was billed? No, not at all.

Hydrogenating oil, it turns out, creates artificial trans fats, which work to lower the so-called "good" (HDL) cholesterol while increasing the "bad" (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. In fact, trans fats are so unhealthy, manufacturers were ordered to put the amount of trans fats a food contains on labels in 2004, then phase it out from manufactured foods entirely as of 2018.

End of problem? Not quite.

Heart disease, in many cases, is caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque that makes the arteries narrower, so less blood can flow through. It seemed intuitively obvious to researchers in the 1930s and 1940s that if a person cut back on eating foods high in fats and cholesterol, the risk of heart disease would be reduced. Researchers set out to prove this "lipid theory."


The history of the lipid theory/heart disease research, and the research itself, is brilliantly documented by Nina Teicholz in The Big Fat Surprise (see Resources). This 481-page book takes a hard look at all the studies involved in the heart disease–diet connection and draws some conclusions that are quite different from what the American Heart Association (AHA) still preaches. This makes more sense when you understand how much "big food" has influenced American health policy.

That influence can be disguised as science. First came the Nutrition Foundation, created by Quaker Oats and the Corn Products Refining Corporation in 1941. This organization, writes Teicholz, "steered the course of science at its very source by developing relationships with academic researchers, funding important scientific conferences, and funneling millions of dollars into research." In 1948, Procter & Gamble took that strategy a step further: It donated all the profits from its popular Truth or Consequences radio program to the American Heart Association, then a small, underfunded organization founded in 1924 by cardiologists seeking to understand the growing problem of heart disease. With contributions from other food giants over the years, the AHA grew into the largest nonprofit in the country, with a $30 million budget by 1960. Is it any wonder that the organization focused on proving a connection between consuming saturated fats from animals and heart disease?


Excerpted from "The Fat Kitchen"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Andrea Chesman.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Michael Ruhlman

Part 1: Understanding Animal Fats
Chapter 1: A Little Chemistry, A Little Biology
Chapter 2: Buying, Rendering, and Curing Animal Fats
Chapter 3: Cooking and Baking with Animal Fats

Part 2: Recipes
Chapter 4: Snacks, Street Food, and Starters
Chapter 5: Main Dishes
Chapter 6: Side Dishes
Chapter 7: Baked Goods and Desserts
Chapter 8: Basics

Metric Conversions

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The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Cheryl-S 7 months ago
4.5-Stars WOW! I had no idea there was this much information on different types of fat and how to make them into what we use in the kitchen. The information contained in this book is priceless. The stories of how certain products came to be are AMAZING! I am in awe over the delicious recipes contained between these covers. I only wish there were more pictures.
Anonymous 8 months ago
The Fat Kitchen By Andrea Chesman What a fabulous book of knowledge for the modern cook who is looking to cook more authentically. When it comes to food and diet we need not leave the past in the past. Looking back to how food was processed, prepared and used is all very relevant today if you are looking for a clean, healthier diet. This book defines what was used and what is currently used in our diets and how they differ. You need not put on a lab coat as she lays out factual evidence on different fats in a very readable manner. Chesman outlines the different fats to use, how to source them, render them and use them. This new information is followed by recipes using the fats discussed. Overall this is a great resource to your kitchen library. I look forward to purchasing this book as a hard copy to have in my kitchen. This book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion, which I provided.