Fat, An Appreciation ...

To describe newly published and award winning Fat, An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient with Recipes as just another cookery book would be to serve a grave miscarriage of justice. The true passion of its author, Jennifer McLagan oozes with meticulous detail both as a chef and a knowledgeable food writer. She sets a clear case that animal fats are not the enemy as they have been portrayed in the media whilst promoting a healthy attitude to the relationship with food and eating. Jennifer’s arguments are reasoned and scientific citing the enormous increase in convenience food eating coupling with a distanced relationship from real food to be the root of many health problems today.

Fat may be considered a controversial book. For years we have been advised to steer away from animal fats, replacing them with processed vegetable substitutes and low or fat free alternatives. Many do consider fat as the enemy and thus a constituent to be eradicated from regimes; yet here is a comprehensive book, dedicated in its entirety, to positive aspects of animal fats in the diet. And, if this were not sufficient, the enticing photography of Leigh Beisch illustrates Jennifer’s sumptuous recipes which include deliciously creamy butter, plump slabs of rosy pork belly, roasted marrow bones, spiced pork crackling and quite shockingly, a full frontal image of rendered pork fat... lard!

I consider myself fortunate to have a formal background in food and nutrition simply because I am NOT, nor have ever been, afraid of using or consuming fat. I whole heartedly support Jennifer’s sensible, practical dietary advice though she quite definitely states that this is not a diet book, it is a book about diet and the history and culture of fat in our daily lives. A time when home cooked food was served during family mealtimes, snacking was a rare treat and animal fats were cooked, eaten and enjoyed without remorse.

“Every cell in our body needs fat, our brain and hormones rely on fat to function, and fat supports our immune system, fights disease, and protects our liver. Fat promotes good skin and healthy hair, and regulates our digestive system and leaves us feeling sated. Yet after more than 30 years of reducing our intake of animal fats, we are not healthier, but only heavier. Diets low in fat, it turns out, leave people hungry, depressed, and prone to weight gain and illness. “ Jennifer succinctly continues, “We reduced the animal fat in our diet but increased our intake of sugars and other refined carbohydrates, then we were surprised when we got fat. We shouldn’t have been.”

Fat is an essential component of human nutrition. Fat soluble vitamins and minerals are only available from fat sources. It is an important fuel, the body utilizing it for warmth and energy and also to protect vital internal organs. Dietary problems arise not because of fat but the sheer quantity of food consumed in contemporary society and the way in which it is eaten. Jennifer is categorically clear – don’t gorge but, develop a health attitude to eating where all important animal fat may be moderately
included in the diet and enjoyed without guilt.

At even the most rudimentary level of training, every chef is taught the value of animal fat. Meat would be tough and inedible without it, cream adds luxurious silkiness to sauces and butter adds richness of flavour. Fats are vital cooking mediums, lubricating the food as it cooks and transferring heat from the pan. As an actual ingredient, fats smooth the texture and moisten foods, whilst in pastry or biscuit dough it ‘shortens’ or tenderizes the finished product to leave a pleasant mouth feel and a rich flavour.

Jennifer writes a detailed overview at the beginning of each chapter: Butter (worth it), Pork Fat (the king), Poultry Fat (versatile and good for you), Beef and Lamb Fats (overlooked but tasty) and her recipes really work. Written with infectious enthusiasm reflecting her love of real cooking, it is no coincidence that many recipes have a French influence, (though times are changing in France, here remains a population who are still in touch with the food they eat, readily making time for properly cooked meals) but also includes childhood favourites and modern dishes such as Marmalade Pudding, Butter Curry, Spiced Popcorn and an amazing Chicken Kiev.

Recipes have detailed introductions where ingredients are discussed along with any special requirements of the dish. This is about real cooking where flavours are allowed to develop so there are no speedy shortcuts. But importantly, these mouthwatering recipes truly work, producing delicious dishes guaranteed to become firm favourites in any household. Courtesy of Jacqui Small I am able to present a selection of recipes which I trust you will enjoy.

Fat, An Appreciation Of A Misunderstood Ingredient With Recipes by Jennifer McLagan.

Published by Jacqui Small LLP. GBP18.99 (Hardback)
Food Photography by Leigh Beisch