Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Recycle Your Fat

The New York Times has a piece today about cooking with stewing chickens -- roosters, and egg-layers that have passed their prime. This used to be so normal. Now it is like boutique cooking to use every part of the animal, and every part of the farm process.

At the Coop where I shop, they sell stewing chickens. At $5 each, they do not make a cheap soup stock, but they do make a really astonishingly good one. I used to use the chicken meat for my dog's dinner (You've never seen a dog run so fast to her food bowl as when she's getting meat from a stock.)

But in the article they talk about chefs using the leftover meat to fill dumplings, or using the stewing chicken itself to make a coq au vin. Usually in the U.S. we cook coq au vin for an hour. With older chickens you have to cook them for longer. The article says Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue's food writer, cooks coq au vin for 5 hours. Whoa. (Other chefs are not so extreme.)

Anyway, the part I like the best in the article is where Jacques Gautier -- actually a Park Slope, Brooklyn, chef (at Palo Santo) -- says he browns the chicken for his coq au vin in the fat left over from making soup stocks. "That's our recycling program," he says.

Yea, I love this! Because -- what do you do with the fat? I used to be really baffled by the thick layer of fat when I made soup stocks from organic grass fed beef bones. It was so white and pure and just seemed...valuable. I didn't know what to do with it. I kept one batch in my freezer for a while, thinking -- can I make, like, soap? WHAT do I do with this? I felt almost the same way about chicken fat from soups, and bacon grease...

When I was little we kept bacon grease and used it for cooking pancakes. Then the whole low-fat thing hit and we had to throw away all our fat, and go start a whole new fat industry (oil.) It seems so weird.

My friend Nicole, who spent her summers growing up on her grandparents' farm in Western Canada, remembers her grandmother making big farm breakfasts every day, then putting the giant cast iron pot that fried the bacon onto the back of the stove. For the rest of the day, any time she needed fat for cooking, she'd scoop out a little bacon fat. At the end of the day she'd clean it out and start over again. Why is this not normal to us, still?

Did you know pork fat has more mono-unsaturated fat in it than saturated fat? (And that olive oil is 14% saturated, and that all fats are a combination of saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated?) (And that some people think frying in saturated fats is safer because they're more stable?) I use my bacon fat now. I use my beef fat.

Here are butternut squash chips fried in lard (organic, grass-fed, of course, duh!), the way chips, and everything, were fried for hundreds of years, before the invention of Crisco.
I think our modern low-fat ways are not only making us fat, they're making us wasteful.


John said...

Great post! It also makes me sad to throw away things like clean beef fat from a stock. I can use raw beef fat trimmings in sausage (it's hard to find pork fat these days, pork is so lean), but the rendered beef fat? I don't think I'd ever have enough to actually fry potatoes.

Chicken/Turkey fat on the other had is incredibly useful for making any kind of dumpling/matzah balls. Even spread on toast with a little salt is delicious.

I've never gotten into the bacon fat thing, it makes everything taste like stale bacon. Plus, you have to cook your bacon at a low heat (or else the fat often tastes burned). No thanks.

Larissa Phillips said...

Maybe I don't cook my bacon as much as you do. It doesn't taste burnt or stale! You can clarify it, too -- just let the bits settle, and pour off the clear stuff on stuff, and keep that part.