In the beginning...
Welcome to our food log, an intimate look into Restaurant Eve - our chefs, our food, our travels and our verve. Each week, or rather when it strikes the fancy, we’ll post a peek into the behind the scenes of our world - both the divine and the diabolical.
Tuesday, August 23
Monday, August 8
|1957 ad from British Lard Marketing Board|
Bacon drippings. Pork cracklins. And the juicy, precious, sweet goodness that is bone marrow.
For years my mother and I have had arguments on the subject of meat fat:
“Look at the fat!”
“Don’t eat the fat!”
“Skim off the fat!”
My mother is from the Philippines. And most Filipinos—I said most, not all—from her generation usually cooked the bejesus out of their meat; my mother was no exception. Any existence of moisture in her meat was gleaned from the precious remaining fat.
I had many fond memories of food and my mother …
This is about the time where you would expect me to wax poetic about food daydreams: the scent of blah-blah-blah that wafted from my mother’s kitchen. Or how I remember my mother lovingly preparing pies from apples plucked from the garden trees…
Yeah, yeah, every intro to every cheffy cookbook today contains the similar story: Oh, every delicious memory is just so, so … romantic.
Ok, idyllic paradise, we get it. And no, I’m not jealous that some of you spent your adolescence in a foodie Shangri La. Because regardless of how I made it here in the food world, I made it here.
Surprising, really, because I was a SPAM eating kid. How I loved the little key that opened the blue tin jar. It was so magical to me. That hook-bent key could even unlock doors! If it was processed or packaged in Technicolor, it had my name all over it. I was a pink fluffy, Hostess snowball eating kid who thought T.V. dinners were the bomb: unwrapping that shiny pinched foil to find food nestled in perfect compartments was like treasure hunting, especially if I got one with the little, “baked” apple streusel.
Growing up, this was all the “culinary” I knew and yet somehow it prompted food epiphanies in my life.
I would pronounce the glories of fat one summer day when my mother decided we would have steak and she could try a new marinade. She pulled two rib eyes from the package from ‘Blank-Blank’ butchers. I was surprised because normally non-rich kids, with single mothers didn’t shop there. But it was summer, my mother bought a little charcoal grill and wanted to treat me.
That day I learned that my mother’s version of grill really meant = kill it again.
“Well done” was an oxymoron to even a six year old. But my mother was smiling, so I compliantly ate—shoe leather. I cut into the maligned meat and accidentally included a slice of caramelized squishiness charred by the hot coals. Remarkably this bite was less leathery, with a twinge of magnificent.
I had experienced fat for the first time.
We are told that we should not eat animal fat—that it’s bad for us. But many cultures all over the world (from the arctic to the equator) have eaten animal fats throughout many millennia.
When you dine in any of our restaurants, butter and cream are prized, and fat is celebrated. Our chefs—and every chef I know—love to cook with it, so it’s put back in its rightful place: in our food.
|Eamonn Armstrong, Meshelle’s son, grinding suet|
Biscuits and pastry taste gorgeous and are perfectly crumbly because of lard. Minced pies are made with suet. Roasts are browned with beef drippings. And chickens are fried in duck fat.
But the king of all fat comes from pigs.
It is used for many applications: terrines, pates, sausages. Or simply: salted, cured, spiced, cut thin and adored.
Thank goodness our country has caught the fever of the sensible.
At least I thought we had.
One night at the restaurant we offered the notable, black Ibérico ham (Pata Negra.) If you are unfamiliar with this precious pig—and I’m not being facetious, this is one pricy porker—it comes from a region in Spain where it is truly treasured. It basically runs around freely and feasts on acorns. Ultimately, all that running and feasting makes for one happy, tasty pig.
Seriously though, it is superior. And if it is served at room temperature (never cold) the key part of the flavor is (to me, anyway) the mouth-feel—the way the fat melts away, and tells the story.
That night, a luscious slice was given to each guest in the tasting room. Everyone did their thing and enjoyed it properly. With the exception of one couple. Though they were as verbally delighted as the others, they fastidiously pulled all of the succulent, white fat from the meat and placed it on the corner of their plates in a tragic heap.
FAT belongs in a celebration.
First of all, when you make reservations in a fine dining restaurant—especially for a special occasion—leave the diet at home. I understand you want to eat healthy. Do it every other night of the week. But when in a fine dining restaurant, where the very purpose is to indulge, splurge.
Order the terrine, the sausage, the salted pork and a great bottle of wine. You’ll be alright; death’s winged chariot is not coming for you.
And please remember not only is animal fat not the villain it’s made out to be, it’s good for you. If you are eating high quality fats, such as pasture fed, non-medicated, organic eggs, dairy, poultry, and meat, you are doing your body good.
There, I said it.
I’m going to make it even clearer. If you are eating conventionally/industrialized raised poultry and meat, then, yes, it is a good idea to cut off the fat—as the medications, hormones and pesticides consumed by the animal will be concentrated in the fat, which will in turn be concentrated in your fat.
That’s right: all fat is not created equal.
If you can understand the difference, I am hoping I can turn you into one of us, a fat evangelist, to go and spread the good word.
Fat is not a dirty word and fat does NOT make you fat.
Fat is natural. Do not fear it. The hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO, AKA trans fat) companies took over and convinced you lard was the villain.
Fat guarantees taste and succulence. Simple. Without it, meat will be dry and tasteless.
Fat has lots of good fatty acids that fight disease and lower cholesterol.
Fat helps the body make better use of fat-soluble (the operative word, look it up) vitamins (A, D, E and K; carotene; omega-3′s) and minerals. This is the reason why proteins naturally come paired with fat: the protein in egg whites is paired with the fat of the yolks, muscle meat is marbled with and attached to fat (this food was not engineered in a factory). Generations not too long ago, intuitively knew this. Hence the reason classic vegetable recipes are cooked with fat – potatoes mashed with butter and cream, collards stewed with salt pork, etc. (No, we did not wise up, we got ‘target marketed.’)
Fat is flavor and just makes everything better.
Sadly, not everyone is ready to embrace the sublime. On a daily basis we still battle with the stigma, “Why is there so much pork in everything?” (Um, because it’s delicious) Children are taught that “lard-o”, “fats-o,” doesn’t mean you are yummy and tasty. My mother still lectures me, and my own children trim their meat. With outstretched forks they just “pass it to mom.”
Did the fat love skip a generation? Will my grandchildren side with grandma Meshe?
The drug companies (who won’t make money if you are healthy) and the junk food industry have done a bang up job convincing the American public that fats are bad for us. But too much of anything is bad for you.
I am not a nutritionist. I am a restaurateur whose most favorite activity is food.
You might disavow the truth about fat. But I’m hoping there’s no escaping the voice of reason in your own head. God is a brilliant designer. He knew exactly what he was doing when he gave us his bounty.
And while my mother just yesterday sneered that I didn’t pat my bacon, I think she would have to agree with me.
I could continue to blab about the virtue of fat but if you really want to know what’s what, read the book by Chef Jennifer McLagan: “Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes.” She is brilliant and one of my culinary heroes