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Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient

by Jennifer McLagan

Proponents of low-fat diets have routinely represented animal fats such as butter, lard, beef tallow, chicken skin, suet, and others as veritable poisons to be ruthlessly excised from our diets. Turns out, says Jennifer McLagan in her new cookbook, Fat, that such people are not only wrong, but the substitutes they’ve so often championed –
hydrogenated vegetable oils – are the real poisons.
    Animal fat has been a treasured and useful part of the human diet for millennia. According to McLagan, since the low-fat fad began in the mid-20th century, obesity and diabetes rates have skyrocketed. There is still no conclusive evidence, she states, linking animal fats to heart disease. In fact, many fatty acids in animal fats actually lower LDL and boost the immune system. And when they come from grass-fed animals, they provide valuable omega-3, an essential fatty acid our bodies can’t produce.
    McLagan’s goal is to restore animal fats to their once-honoured position. She provides a lengthy introduction followed by four chapters – “Butter,” “Pork Fat,” “Poultry Fat,” and “Beef & Lamb Fat” – all plump with illuminating food science, fascinating history and sociology, and valuable culinary expertise. Of course, since fat is just so tasty, there are also dozens of tantalizing recipes, such as Butter-Poached Scallops, Bacon Baklava, French Fries cooked in duck fat, Beef Marrow Tacos, Spiced Ethiopian Butter, Terrine of Foie Gras, Leaf Lard Pastry, and Christmas Pudding with real suet.
    Vilified by the ill-informed, fat has had a rough ride over the last few decades. McLagan’s Fat should be celebrated for providing an education as essential to cooking as is its subject.