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Animal Fats

Jules van Cruysen



Last week, I looked at various types of oil. However, I ran out of column space before I could mention my favorite category – animal fats. This column is more than a little self indulgent; having just been told that I have high cholesterol I was ordered by my doctor to exercise more and to cut animal fats from my diet. But, before I introduce you to the wonderful world of animal fat, here is a warning – don’t eat too much. While it tastes good, and in small quantities can actually be quite beneficial (more on this later – I feel compelled to defend my habits), excessive consumption is not a good idea, as saturated fat (which is the main component in most animal fats) stimulates cholesterol production in the liver. And then you end up like me – a twenty-two year old with high cholesterol.
Firstly – butter. It’s very much the odd one out; rather than being derived from the fat of an animal, it’s a dairy product – made by churning cream or milk. I have a rule of thumb – if something tastes good, it tastes better with butter. It’s really as simple as that. Butter is used in almost every aspect of cooking, including sauces (hollandaise is mostly butter), baking, frying and spreading (my personal favourite). Butter can be rendered (cooked down) to produce ghee, a product which is almost entirely butterfat, and is used heavily in Indian cooking.
Schmaltz is Yiddish for kosher poultry fat, derived most commonly from chickens, geese and ducks. It is most commonly used for frying, and in some cultures is used as a spread. Boy, does it taste good.
There is only one thing that beats potatoes roasted in schmaltz (duck and goose is amazing but chicken is pretty good as well), and that’s potatoes roasted in horse fat. Which tends to turn most Kiwis off. While duck and goose fat are available from specialty food stores, chicken fat is becoming less common. It can be made by rendering chopped up chicken skin (which is very fatty). Cook it over a very low heat, then strain. YUM! Lard is basically pig fat in its rendered and natural form. It is used widely in baking (such as in pie crusts), cooking, and in the production of soap. Bacon lard is made from rendering cured pork (or bacon, duh) and is excellent for frying, especially eggs.
This is relatively easy to do – fry up some bacon in a non-stick or cast iron pan, take it out (keep it warm in the oven) and fry your eggs in said bacon fat. These are quite possibly the best fried eggs ever.
Tallow is the most versatile form of animal fat and is rendered from mutton and beef. It is most commonly used for cooking (this is what mum cooked the roasts in when you were a kid), for soap, animal feed (can anyone say ‘MAD COW’?), as a lubricant (kinky), and as a flux when soldering. More useful than McGuyver and a pen knife. I would buy a bucket just in case the going gets tough. I’m sure you’ll be able to use it for something.
Other animal fats include cod liver oil and blubber (from whales and seals), but next week – the humble chicken.