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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: A Chef's review of 'Fat'

posted by Paul Urban
This is a book review of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes from a chef's perspective. Our featured chef for this review is Paul Urban.

Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes

Let's start this off with a big thank you to Jennifer McLagan. Thank you one hundred times over. Chef's, cooks, home cooks, foodies and people that just like to cook have been plagued at our local bookstores as of late with too many "20 Minute Meals," "Low Carb Cooking," and "Kid Meets Grill" type cookbooks. Not that these books should not exist, it's just that they should be banished to the basement of the bookstores and categorized as "books written by accidental celebrities." There should be a disclaimer that purchasing any of these books does not guarantee that any valid information lies within the book. So thanks again. Finally, a book on an ingredient that has been a staple in every form of cooking since the beginning of time, yet an ingredient that has been misunderstood, under appreciated and banished as though it were a tobacco company as of late.

From the beautiful front cover, to the ten or so page introduction, this book was pretty captivating. She covers it all in the intro. Why fat is good for you. Why it has been misunderstood. Why it's okay to like fat, even a few paragraphs on why she wrote a book on fat! The information that follows is no less intriguing. Riding a nice wave of interesting information such as the roots of foie gras, to a recipe that basically tells you to fry pork skin and eat it, I found it to be wonderfully balanced. The recipes are quite simple, using ingredients that are readily available and nothing too intimidating for the novice cook. Butter poaching, confit, rillettes and basic charcuterie recipes are found throughout which made me smile. Charcuterie is a lost art and it's sad because it is a part of all of us. Our ancestors practiced charcuterie. It was used as a way of storing meats with no refrigeration, using all parts of the animal so not to waste the sacrifice, a matter of survival in a sense, yet delicious, and simple.

My partner and I both read the book. (although she read it in one evening and it took me three weeks, but that's a whole other review on which one of us is more responsible, we won't go into that.) We tried a few recipes. We made butter, it seemed necessary based on the book we were reading. It was simple, it was fun and accurate. We made it, we froze it and we ate it over the next couple of weeks. We made rillettes per Mrs. McLagans' recipe. We made ours with quail that we had at home. It's basically meat cooked in fat, then stored in fat so needless to say, it was delicious. This was a pleasant recipe, I was happy to see it in there. Rillettes can seem daunting and intimidating yet they are so simple. The author came about it in a very non-pretentious way, explaining every step and why every step was taken. We did not try the roast chicken recipe but we have both made this in the past in the same manner. It's simple, it involves large amounts of butter and herbs, and it's probably delicious. We have lately switched to the Thomas Keller method. (the Bouchon cookbook) His method is much more simple and involves large amounts of butter, the only difference being that the butter is added only after the bird is cooked. He says to use butter for cooking if you'd like, he doesn't only because when the butter melts, it creates steam, causing the skin of the bird to be less crisp. The point is, they both impart fat, both recipes are simple and wonderful.

All in all, this book was great. Two thumbs up. Tons of interesting facts, myths busted and finally someone sticking up for an ingredient that has been misunderstood for far too long. Several quotes along the sides of the pages throughout the book can get a tad annoying but it's a great read overall with simple, detailed recipes. Thank you Jennifer, you scored one for the good guys. The next time I clean up a ribeye, save the chain to be grilled and shared with my fellow cooks, I'm going to feel a little less guilty........Who am I kidding, I never really felt guilty, kudos none the less!

Title: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
A Ten Speed Press Book
By Jennifer Mclagan
Photographs by Leigh Beisch
List Price: $32.50 (Published in September 2008) - Order

RELATED LINKS:
Three separate reviews of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
Alinea, Under Pressure and other cookbooks

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