Today, I would like pay homage to one of my favorite Food Groups – Animal Fat. I know that it’s not GC (Gastronomically Correct) to eat or even admit to liking the stuff, but I LOVE to eat it and lots of it. Butter, bacon fat, lard, beef dripping, ghee, you name it.
If I believed the bad press about animal fat and cholesterol that’s bandied about in the media, I’d be surprised that I am quite slim and healthy considering the amount of fat I consume. My theory has been that because I have Muscogee ancestry, I am genetically pre-disposed to requiring animal fat as part of my daily diet. I found this fascinating article called ‘Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans’.
Excerpt – “The basis of the Indian diet was guts and grease, not waffles and skimmed milk. When the Indians abandoned these traditional foods and began consuming processed store-bought foods, their health deteriorated rapidly. Weston Price vividly described the suffering from tooth decay, tuberculosis, arthritis and other problems that plagued the modernized Indian groups he visited throughout America and Canada. . . . . . Meanwhile, be skeptical of government guidelines. The Indians learned not to trust our government and neither should you.”
The authors Sally Farron and Mary Enig also wrote: Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats which posits that “animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.”
My journey on the slippery and delicious slope of a fat inclusive diet began when I was born into a family of transplanted Southerners. My father Frank was from Muscogee, Oklahoma and did much of the cooking. He kept a Crisco can next to the stove which was filled with bacon fat. I was weaned on the stuff. He used this elixir to liberally season most of his dishes – Fried Okra and Green Tomatoes, Fried Sweet Potatoes, Fried ham and Red-eye Gravy, Hoppin’ John.
Check out SouthernAngel’s ‘Ode to Bacon Grease’ for a truly redneck take on bacon fat and a link to some recipes.
Frank also cooked excellent beef and pork roasts. For some reason he would put them in the kitchen cupboard instead of the fridge, which kept the texture of the meat tender and juicy. One of my favorite pastimes was to eat all of the crispy fat from the surface of the roast. The best was the Christmas ham on which the fat had been scored and glazed with brown sugar and butter. He put it on the top shelf to keep me away from it, but I climbed up on the kitchen counter and stood there, knife in hand, and ate each and every of the exquisite crispy/sweet diamonds. I accidentally dropped the ham on the kitchen floor, but no one never knew about that.
I taught myself how to cook in the early 90’s from ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ by Julia Child. Classic French cuisine loaded with butter, cream and fat. Still my favorite to cook and eat. In an episode of one of her TV shows, she said (paraphrase) “If you’re worried that there’s too much butter in this recipe, you don’t have to use this much butter — you can substitute with cream.” And how did she die? Heart disease? Diabetes? Stroke? None of the above. She died in her sleep, aged 91.
In 1992 I was taken to The Ore House, a steak house in Durango, Colorado for my birthday. I told the waitress that I was on a special high fat, high cholesterol diet and could my steak please have a big strip of fat on it. But I was icily informed that their hand cut steaks are trimmed to be as lean as possible. I also love to eat the skin off of roast chicken and turkey. And one unforgetable time in 1998, the skin of the Christmas goose.
Just a quick digression about bacon fat for my British readers. American bacon is exclusively what is called ‘streaky bacon’ in the UK.
When it is cooked in a skillet it releases a glorious pool of intoxicatingly delicious, salty, sultry, smoky, earthy fat. I’ve tried cooking British streaky bacon, but it doesn’t have the same effect. However, I have found that if I cook it in butter, I am left with something in the skillet that I can work with.
In 2000, on a bicycle tour in Catalonia, I found Oscar Mayer bacon in a village shop. Which I promptly bought and cooked on my little Gaz camp stove. Oscar Mayer is an American brand distributed by Kraft Global in Spain. About four years ago when I was living near Edinburgh, I discovered to my overwhelming delight that Sainsbury’s sells Oscar Mayer bacon. Although my local Exeter branch seems to have stopped carrying it since last summer. I did read that there was a recall in Spring 2007 of some Oscar Mayer Center Cut bacon in the US, so maybe this has something to do with it. I’ll have to have a word with the Sainsbury’s store manager about this.
I want to clarify that I adore British bacon, but if it is bacon fat that I am after, then American bacon wins hands down.
I don’t consume enough bacon to have a supply of bacon fat on hand, but here are a couple of recipes.
Bacon and marmalade sandwich
- 2 slices of bacon
- 2 slices of white bread
Cook the bacon in a skillet and toast one of the bread slices. Fry the other slice on one side only in the bacon fat (this keeps your hands from getting greasy when you pick the sandwich up). Put butter and marmalade on the toast slices and layer the bacon between them.
Popcorn with Parmesan Cheese and Bacon
- sunflower oil
- parmesan cheese
Cook 2-3 slices of bacon and cut into bite-sized pieces. Melt butter in the pan that you have cooked the bacon in. Pop the corn in the sunflower oil and stir in the melted butter/bacon fat mixture. Stir in freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste. Toss with the bacon pieces.
To be continued . . . . . . .