TORONTO (Reuters Life) - It takes a contrarian to defend the goodness of fat at a time when obesity has turned into a global epidemic.
In her new cookbook, "Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes," chef, food stylist and writer Jennifer McLagan challenges medical studies that have linked diet to heart disease.
McLagan, whose first book "Bones" won a James Beard Award in 2006, said that up until the last few decades, fat has always had positive connotations, and that the more people deprived themselves of ingredients such as butter, lard and chicken skin, the fatter and sicker they have become.
McLagan insists animal fats are not only essential to cooking delicious food, but -- in moderation -- are more easily digested than the alternatives and have other health benefits, like boosting the immune system and lowering bad cholesterol.
McLagan, 54, who lives in Toronto but grew up in Melbourne, Australia, spoke to Reuters about debunking fat phobias.
Q: What inspired you to write a book about fat?
A: "After 'Bones,' someone said what are you going to write next and I said well I'm going to do the trilogy -- skin and fat. So I thought, skin, that's a little slim, that book. But I thought about fat and I thought about how I've never really stopped eating fat.
"I guess I escaped Australia in the '70s and ended up in France up to my armpits in pork fat and beef fat and duck fat, so I never got that margarine kind of scare thing and it never stopped me. But then when I started thinking about it, I thought, oh, I still had that thing, like I would have that reaction to a well marbled steak or a slice of pork belly thinking, ooh, there's a lot of fat there. I knew that's where the flavor was but I wanted to find out more about it."
Q: Why has fat gotten a bad rap?
A: "I think it was just misassociated. People were trying to find a reason for the increase in heart attacks and heart disease in the middle of the last century and scientists were looking for a reason and certain theories were proposed. And these were always theories and like everybody, they manipulated the facts to fit.
"So they picked out these things and they said animal fat was bad for you and if you ate animal fat you know it will increase your cholesterol, increase your risk of heart attack, but it was never proved. It was only an associated thing. It was never causal. They left out the French, they left out the Inuit, they left out any population that didn't fit into their plan. That was the first thing. And then when the U.S. Congress (adopted it), we started to believe our government rather than our grandmother about what we should eat."
Q: How do you hope to change people's perception of fat?
A: "There's this association that fat goes from your lips to your hips. And that's not true. Eating fat does not make you fat. Eating too much, too many calories, too much sugar, too many carbs, makes you fat. I'd like to argue eating fat makes you lose weight because you're so satisfied eating fat you don't snack and you don't eat too much of whatever you're eating."
Q: What is your favorite fat to cook with?
A: "I love duck fat to cook potatoes. There is nothing better than, of course if you can get goose fat or foie gras fat, but they're all the same family. Potatoes cooked in duck fat because duck fat has a rich sweetness. And my new latest favorite fat, well I used to always use suet, which is the kidney fat, from the veal or the beef because I grew up with mincemeat ... And one of the things I did when I was doing "Fat," just for interest, I made what I would call scones or tea biscuits with butter, lard, duck fat, suet, baked them all off and I gave them to people to eat to see which ones they would like and you know the one with suet is just amazingly light."
Q: How much fat do you eat?
A: "Probably more than a lot of people but not an obscene amount, because it's not like I'm pouring it on absolutely everything that I eat. But I'm definitely not scared of it. I'm quite happy to have it on things, but like I said, two slices of pork belly and, uncle, I can't eat anymore. Whereas I could probably eat five or six slices of pork tenderloin if I let myself."
Author's note: Is it possible to improve upon a classic BLT? I think so, by adding another layer of flavor with my bacon mayonnaise. The recipe makes about enough for four sandwiches. It's best to use it all up as the bacon fat will turn it solid in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1/2 cup/125 ml
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup/125 ml liquid bacon
Combine the egg yolk, mustard, and lemon juice in the small bowl of a food processor or in a blender and process to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Have the bacon fat liquid, but not hot. With the machine running, gradually add the bacon fat until the mixture starts to stiffen and emulsify, about two minutes. Once it starts to emulsify, you can add the fat more quickly. If the mayonnaise is too thick, just blend in one teaspoon of boiling water to thin it. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Editing by Patricia Reaney