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Jennifer McLagan - Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes

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List of viewable recipes from "Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient" by Jennifer McLagan

Today's guest blogger is Jennifer McLagan the author of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes.  While fat may be a misunderstood ingredient Jennifer McLagan and her book are not; "Fat" is nominated for a James Beard award in the Single Subject category and has already won an IACP award in the same category.

"Fat" is devoted to providing a different viewpoint from today's common culture of low-fat everything. Not only are there recipes, but history and the science behind all things fat.  Jennifer McLagan goes into great detail on the good and bad of fat while celebrating the flavor that fat brings to cooking.

We asked Jennifer to discuss why we shouldn't be afraid of fat…

FAT - It's not a four letter word

by Jennifer McLagan

ImageConfused about fat?  Many of us believe animal fat is bad for our health, so where does that leave the cook who knows without a doubt fat equals flavor? This question and my contrarian streak were the impetus behind my book "Fat".

Almost everything we think we know about animal fat simply isn't true. Over the last hundred years our diet has changed more dramatically than at any other time in our history. We're continually told that a low-fat diet is healthy however, as we dutifully reduce our intake of animal fats our consumption of sugar, carbohydrates and vegetable oils increases and our health declines. Last year, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggested that the government has done more harm than good by promoting a low-fat diet. Why? Giving people license to eat as much low-fat food as they want contributes to the rise of obesity and diabetes. We should have trusted granny not the government.

Let's bust some fat myths - eating animal fat makes you fat.

It's easy to believe that fat on our plate will end up on our body, but it simply isn't true. Fat is very satisfying, leaving us sated and less likely to overeat or snack between meals. So eat fat (in moderation) and you'll probably loose weight!

A low-fat diet is good for us -  No.

Humans have been eating animal fat a lot longer than they have been abstaining from it. Fat is an important part of our diet, essential to our health. Our brain, hormones, immune system and bones all need fat to function. Good animal fat helps maintain our health and prevent disease. Fat aids the digestion of protein, making it good sense to eat a well-marbled steak, or a roast chicken with crispy skin. The external and internal fat in meat adds flavor and bastes the meat as it cooks keeping it succulent. Many aromas and flavors are only soluble in fat, so without fat, they are not released.

Cooking without fat is hard, it stops our food from sticking, and is indispensable for frying and baking. We often cook at high temperatures so animal fats that are lower in polyunsaturated fatty acids and more stable are the best choice they don't turn rancid easily when heated. Best of all, fat tastes good.

The more polyunsaturated a fat is, the better it is for us - No.

All fats are not equal. Highly polyunsaturated fats are very unstable and oxidize easily, especially when heated, making them unsuitable for cooking. When they are hydrogenated to stabilize them at higher temperatures they contain trans fats.  Polyunsaturated fats can suppress our immune system, and our increased consumption of them has adversely affected the balance of the essential fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3, in our bodies.

We need more essential fatty acids - Yes, and no.

Most of us are getting too much omega-6 fat because of the large amounts of omega-6 rich vegetable oil we consume. Too much omega-6 restricts our absorption of omega-3 and is linked to cancer, heart disease, liver damage, learning disorders, weight gain, and malfunction of our immune, digestive, and reproductive systems. We all need more omega-3 in our diet and we can get that from the butter and fat of grass-fed animals.

So good animal fat is an essential part of our diet, but just as important as what we eat, is how we eat. We've become so obsessed with the nutrition of our food that we too often neglect the pleasure it gives us. The act of feeding our loved ones and ourselves shapes and expresses us. Food is a rich sensual experience as important to our culture as poetry and music - relax, enjoy and celebrate it.

Image
Photo by Leigh Beisch © 2008
Salted Butter Tart

Reprinted with permission from Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

I love the way ideas for recipes come from the oddest sources. I made the Salted Caramel Sauce (page 54) and loved the flavor. Then, a well-known Paris baker, Eric Kayser, took over one of the bakeries in my Paris neighborhood, and the following week my friend Laura dropped by with Kayser's new tart cookbook. In it was a recipe for tarte au beurre salé, or salted butter tart. I grabbed the book and made the tart. Here is my rich, sweet, and satisfying version of his recipe. When shopping for the ingredients, buy extra cream so you can serve this tart with a cloud of whipped cream to cut the sweetness-yes, another benefit of eating fat.

Serves 6 to 8

  • 1/2 recipe Sweet Butter Pastry (see recipe below)
  • 1 1/4 cups / 9 ounces / 250 g superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1/2 cup / 4 ounces / 115 g salted butter, diced
  • 1 cup / 250 ml whipping (35 percent fat) cream
  • Lightly whipped cream, for serving


Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line a 9 or 9 1/2-inch / 23 or 24-cm tart pan. Prick the base of the tart with a fork and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C.

Place the tart shell on a baking sheet. Line the tart with parchment paper and fill it with dried beans. Bake until the pastry is just set, about 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and continue to cook until the pastry is a dark golden color, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the tart to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Combine the sugar and butter in a deep, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir to mix and cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter and sugar caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes. The sugar and butter will go through several stages. First it will look like a flour and butter roux, then it will appear curdled, and then the butter will leak out of the sugar mixture. Don't worry: it will all come together in the end.

While the caramel is cooking, pour the cream into a saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Keep stirring the butter and sugar mixture, watching carefully as it begins to caramelize and remembering that the heat in the pan will continue to cook the caramel once it is removed from the burner. You want a rich, dark caramel color, but you don't want to burn the mixture, which will give it a bitter taste. When the caramel reaches the right color, remove the pan from the heat and slowly and carefully pour in the cream; the mixture will bubble and spit. When the caramel stops bubbling, return it to low heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the caramel in the cream. Remove the pan from the heat and let the caramel cool for 10 minutes. Slowly pour the cooled caramel into the baked pastry shell and chill the tart for at least 2 hours.

This tart is easier to cut when it is chilled. Remove the tart from the pan and, using a wet knife, cut it into wedges. Serve the tart at room temperature, however, for maximum flavor, with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sweet Butter Pastry

Reprinted with permission from Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

Rich and buttery, this is my favorite pastry, and I use it for all sorts of sweet tarts. It is important to use superfine sugar, also known as fruit or caster sugar, which dissolves more easily into the crust. Egg is the liquid added to this pastry, but if, for example, the tart filling contains lots of eggs, such as a custard filling, you can replace the egg in the dough with an equal amount of liquid (about 3 tablespoons). While ice water is the obvious choice, it's not the only one; orange juice, for example, can complement a nut or fruit filling. Because of its high butter content, this pastry can be a little harder to roll than others; remove it from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you roll it. If the pastry becomes too sticky, place it between two sheets of parchment paper to roll it out. Not only will this stop it from sticking, but it will also help you ease it into the tart pan.

Makes enough for two 9 to 9 1/2-inch / 23 to 24-cm tarts

  • 2 cups / 8 3/4 ounces / 250 g flour
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 2/3 cup / 5 ounces / 150 g cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup / 2 ounces / 65 g superfine (caster) sugar


Combine the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse bread crumbs. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Pour the egg mixture over the flour and butter mixture and mix with a fork. Squeeze a bit of the mixture between your fingers. If it holds together, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface; if not, add a couple of teaspoons of ice water and test again. Knead gently and form into a ball, divide the pastry in half, and flatten into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using. 

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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