In praise of Fat

Taste of Huron
August 24-30
Full list of dinners, workshops, and other events:

Food for Thought
Dinners at Huron County restaurants
$35 per person (excluding alcohol, taxes and service) Book through host restaurant.

Tuesday, August 25
7 to 9 p.m. – Hessenland
$35 – Reserve: 1-866-543-7736

Tasting and discussion with Pelee Island wine master Walter Schmoranz. Features dishes paired or prepared with Pelee Island brand wines.

Wednesday, August 26
7 to 9 p.m. – Eddington’s
$35 – Reserve: 519-235-3030

Evening with author Jennifer McLagan, winner of the 2009 James Beard Cookbook of the Year for Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes.

Friday, August 28
7 to 11 p.m. – Bayley’s Barn, Hensall
$20 – Corn and Pig Roast

Corn, pork, baked beans, fiddle music and square dancing.

Two-time James Beard Single Subject category award winner for Bones (2005) and Fat (2009), Jennifer McLagan is also the 2009 winner of the James Beard Cookbook of the Year for Fat. McLagan will join James Eddington for a meal consisting of her recipes August 26.
Casey Lessard (a strict vegetarian, by the way) spoke with McLagan about her views on food.

CL: How did you get inspired to write about bones and fat?
JM: I’d done a small piece for a magazine on bones, and my agent thought it could develop into a larger idea. I liked the concept because I had worked for a long time as a food stylist and was doing a lot of boneless and skinless meat, and it drove me crazy.
Bones were fascinating because they’re taboo. Everyone’s buying everything boneless and it seemed the right topic because it could be more than just a cookbook. Bones appeal to the primal sense in man, and there’s a lot of history attached to it.
When I was with my editor in New York, someone asked me what I was going to do next, and I joked that I was going to do a trilogy: bones, skin and fat. I was joking, but when I thought about fat, that was another topic that interested me. Fat is where the flavour is, and it was a topic no one was touching other than no-fat or low-fat. But it was a hard book to sell (to publishers), and it was a Canadian publisher that picked it up.
To me, it’s about writing something that is interesting and saying something that needs to be said, contributing to culinary knowledge.

CL: What do your books contribute to the modern eating culture?
JM: In the last five years, food has become a political topic. People got lost; they got disconnected from their food in lots of different ways: in the source of it, but also how to make and cook it. That’s what’s made a mess of people’s diets and health. I want people to think about what they’re doing and eating. Food is vital to our culture, and I want people to understand that something like fat isn’t bad just because the media tells you it is. Fat’s a very important part of your diet and it won’t kill you.

CL: What are you trying to argue in Fat?
JM: That the low-fat, no-fat thing was pretty much wrong and it did us more harm than good. We need a mix of different things, including fat, in our diet. Our brains are made of fat. There are a lot of vitamins that are only fat-soluble. They put vitamins in low-fat milk, which is a waste of time because those vitamins require fat.
If you put fat into your diet, you’ll probably actually lose weight. It not only makes it very tasty, but it also makes it very satisfying. You’ll eat less of something that’s better for you instead of eating empty carbohydrates.
If we all just ate a normal, regular diet, we’d all be a lot healthier.
Essentially, Fat is a cookbook, so I’m showing people how to cook with fat and how it’s a good medium to cook in and how they can get their hands on fat.

CL: Why is it important to cook with animal fat?
JM: Animal fats are better to cook with than vegetable oils because animal fats have a better balance of Omega-3s and Omega-6s. They’re also very stable. What you do with fat when you cook is you heat it up. Highly polyunsaturated (vegetable) fats break down and become rancid very quickly. A lot of oils we buy in bottles are already rancid but you can’t tell because of the way they’re being processed. With an animal fat you can tell straight away if it’s rancid.
Bones are also something we think is too much work. But there’s lots of great stuff about cooking with bones. You get collagens and gelatins, which are good for you, but you also get a wonderful base for a sauce. When you braise on the bone, you get this wonderful, unctuous sauce that has all the flavour and goodness in there. Bone marrow is an extremely good source of unsaturated fat. All this stuff is good for you, but we’ve forgotten that. We’re not willing to do any work to get our food, and that’s a shame.

CL: The next book you’re doing is about the oddities of food.
JM: I’m calling it Odd Bits – what to do with the rest. These are the second cuts. Every cookbook uses the prime cuts, like chicken breast and tenderloin. They’re good, but sometimes they have less taste than pieces like the brisket or the neck or the shoulder. People don’t use those cuts anymore because they don’t know how to deal with them. I’ll also cover parts that people are scared of, like brains, kidney and liver.

CL: How do you think that book will be received?
JM: I think it needs to be done. It’s very hard to find any sources for what to do with these parts. What do you do with liver and how do you tell whether it’s good or not? What can you cook with it? How do you handle it? Brisket makes wonderful gravy and hamburgers. Get that information out for people so it’s out there.

CL: As a world traveler, do you find the Europeans are adopting the bad habits of North Americans?
JM: I spend a lot of time in France, and while there’s a certain generation that still eats real food from markets, and you can get raw food in the supermarket, that’s changing with the younger generation. The older generation sits down at a table with smaller portions, while the younger generation eats fast food and there’s a rise in obesity. In England, there’s a lot of fast food, and it’s a huge problem. In North America, we’re swinging back the other way. Especially in the cities, there are a lot of people eating the 100-mile diet. People are looking locally, and this is all good.

CL: Why should people buy your book, Fat?
JM: I want people to realize that fat’s not a four-letter word. Fat’s good for them, it’s essential, and best of all, it’s tasty.

Jennifer McLagan’s Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes is published by McClelland & Stewart.