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Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes Hardcover – September 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Jennifer McLagan's Pumpkin and Bacon Soup

Jennifer McLagan is a chef, food stylist, and writer who has worked in London and Paris as well as her native Australia. Her book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, won the Best Single Subject Cookbook award, as well as Cookbook of the Year, at the 2009 James Beard Awards. Her first book, Bones, was widely acclaimed, winning the James Beard Award for single-subject food writing. She is a regular contributor to Fine Cooking and Food & Drink. She has lived in Toronto for more than 27 years with her sculptor husband, Haralds Gaikis, with whom she escapes to Paris as often as possible. On both sides of the Atlantic, Jennifer maintains friendly relations with her butchers, who put aside their best fat and bones for her.

(Photo © Rob Fiocca)

Pumpkin and Bacon Soup
(Makes 3 quarts/3 l)

  • 1/2 pound/225 g side (slab) bacon
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 1 large sprig sage
  • hubbard squash or other firm, dry pumpkin or winter squash (about 3-1/3 pounds/1.5 kg)
  • 8 cups/2 l water
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove the rind and any hard, dry skin from the bacon. Cut the bacon into 1/4-inch/6-mm dice.

Place a large saucepan over low heat, add the bacon pieces, and cook gently so they render their fat. When most of their fat is rendered, add the onion, celery, and sage, stirring to coat with the fat. Cook until the vegetables soften slightly, about 7 minutes.

Cut the squash into quarters and remove the seeds. Peel the squash and coarsely chop into smaller, even-sized pieces. Set aside.

Pour 1 cup/250 ml of the water into the pan with the vegetables, increase the heat to high and, using a wooden spoon, deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom. Add the remaining 7 cups/1.75 l water, the squash pieces, 1 tablespoon of salt, and some pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until the squash is very soft, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the sage and let the soup cool slightly.

Purée the soup, in batches, in a blender and pour into a clean saucepan. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and reheat the soup to serve.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Persuasively arguing that the never-ending quest for "health" has gone too far, McLagan's elegant and informed look at this most maligned ingredient is appropriately unctuous. A crucial part of our diets, fat not only provides health benefits but pure pleasure: few ingredients can carry flavor the way fat does. Breaking the topic down into categories (butter, pork, poultry, beef-and-lamb), McLagan carefully chooses recipes that showcase the role of fat in imparting and carrying flavor. Versatile butter adds richness to pastry dough, a sweet nuttiness to Brown Butter Ice Cream, thickens classic sauces and can be used to gently poach scallops. A classic BLT gets a jolt of flavor from bacon-fat mayonnaise, and sliced Yukon Gold potatoes cooked in duck fat are practically ambrosial. While there's a fair number of indulgent dishes (3-inch bone-in ribeyes served with a red wine sauce and roasted bone marrow, a pork-fat laden twist on peanut brittle), McLagan emphasizes flavor and application over decadence. Digressions like those on the history of Crisco, fat as an art medium and a thoughtful look at foie gras are welcome and enlightening. Her mixture of science, cultural anthropology and culinary imagination are intoxicating, making this a crucial work on the topic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press; 8.2.2008 edition (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580089356
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580089357
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.9 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer McLagan is the author of the widely acclaimed books Bones (2005), Fat (2008), Odd Bits (2011), and Bitter (2014). Her books have won numerous awards from the Beard Foundation, IACP and Gourmand International. Fat was named the James Beard Cookbook of the Year and was also published in German Fett (2012). Jennifer is also published in French Les Os - dix façons de les préparer (2014).

Australian by birth, Jennifer has more than three decades of experience in the food world as a chef, caterer, food stylist and writer. She left behind a degree in economics and politics early on in order to train in the food business, beginning her professional life in the kitchens of the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne. Work as a chef took her from Australia to England, where she practiced her trade at Prue Leith's highly regarded restaurant in London and then in the kitchens of Winfield House, home of the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Sally H. Calligan on November 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I love this book and it could be my cookbook of the year. I have a library and I have been cooking long enough that I do not really need a cookbook unless it is very good. I bought the book primarily for reading about fats and why they could be good for you. However, I have made several recipes including the above mentioned roast chicken, which was fabulous. I slow baked a lamb shoulder by her method of slow cooking. And I saved the fat to make some lamb fritters, (not of this book) frying them in the left over fat. I have baked sweet potatoes in lard inspired by the book. I have rendered lard for myself and my girls. It has all been quite fun. And now that I am having so much fun and the food is so good, I really am not sure I care about the health issues.

Here is one thing I will say, since I have cooked out of this book this week, I am not hungry or craving food.
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104 of 109 people found the following review helpful By J. L. Rector on November 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am so tired of fat free everything these days in the grocery store, so it was a real pleasure to read about fat...glorious fat. Maybe my cholesterol is getting jacked to Jesus, but my food has flavor now that I am cooking with fat. I tried McLagan's roasted chicken recipe and it was the best chicken ever...flavorful, juicy...I swoon at the memory. I look forward to trying more of the recipes from the book as soon as I can locate sources for well marbled meats, fatty fowl, and pork bellies. My in-laws are in their eighties and have cooked with lard all their lives. They are happy, healthy, thin, and the food just tastes good. I may croak a few weeks earlier than expected, but I will go out with happy taste buds. I really enjoyed reading about fat.
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81 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Man TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
You've just gotta love a book that has a big fatty slab of meat on it! And while fat has gotten an unfair bad rap over the past few decades from the low-fat diet apologists, the fact is that fat consumption is an important part of living as healthy a lifestyle as you can. This is something Jennifer McLagan wanted to convey with her book to give people a greater "appreciation" for what is arguably the most flavorful ingredient you could put into a recipe (nope, not salt, not sugar, and not spices of any kind can compete with good old-fashioned FAT!).

From butter to meat fats, McLagan gives you quite a history lesson on the subject of fat (and you can't miss the section on where the ghastly margarine came from!) to whet your appetite for some truly incredible fat-based dishes to make. Not all of them are low in carbohydrates, but they can easily be adapted to just about any diet. Except for a low-fat one. Sorry low-fatties!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on March 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I should amend the title (it was just a come-on!) to say that I rarely read cookbooks: I buy them if the recipes look good (this has led to a library of about 600 books), but almost never read the chef's musings. In this case, the reverse has been true. I've read "Fat" from cover to cover, with fascination. Jennifer Mclagan is a highly articulate advocate for this much-maligned (nowadays) ingredient; her observations give great support to those of us who enjoy cooking for taste, rather than rectitude. And the recipes span a huge number of cuisines, from French to Indian to "American." Last night was my first adventure with a "Fat" recipe, Cheong Liew's braised pork belly. It was a spectacular success. I am now going into my "cook everything from this entire book" phase, and look forward to rillettes, confits, palmiers, and bone marrow crostini. A MUST-have for any good cook.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jason Golod on July 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
IF you like to cook in teflon and don't like to use anything with "oil" in the name, don't read this book.

IF you don't like eating food that you think you need an engineering degree to make, read this book.

I am not some Zen guru or yoga master...I am a guy who has always liked to cook. What I seem to notice and dislike more and more these days is that everything we seem to eat is "produced" some factory. For me, the beauty of cooking is in simplicity. FAT is a book that has helped me to focus on the important parts of cooking. I am not sure how accurate all of the information in the book is, but 99.99% of it just makes sense in my head...and that is what I care about.

If you love to cook or you love someone who loves to cook, then get this book. You will be happy you did.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Alice in AZ on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...there was a magical land where people ate real food, and it didn't kill them. Then one day an evil wizard came along, and told everybody they had to live off lentil loaf and canola oil. And the wizard's name was--Dr. Oz!

Okay, a serious review--this is a great cookbook. I've made a few of the recipes in this book(braised oxtail and bone marrow tacos), and they are really good. But my absolute favorite part is the beginning, where McLagan discusses why animal fats are unjustly blamed for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Dare I say the current food pyramid is a political plot? A vast left-wing conspiracy? Am I the only person who saw SOYLENT GREEN?

Of course, gentle reader, you will have to watch your portion sizes when you cook these foods--this is not an "all you can eat" air-popped whatever. The point is not to eat all you can, but to get full, and stop eating.
I especially liked this book because I just finished reading "The Vegetarian Myth", which is a much longer argument against a grain-based diet, and is chock-full of nifty scientific evidence that animal fat doesn't kill people.
But get this cookbook--you will feel like Martha Stewart and Ted Nugent all at once!
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