At a photo shoot almost 30 years ago, a hairstylist said something that I remember vividly to this day: “Animal fats make me fat.” At the time it struck me as rather profound. Of course, I thought, that makes perfect sense. And then, the paradigm shifted. Now, we know that fat is beautiful.
It’s not actually news. A hundred years ago, a typical diet was rich in butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, and maybe a little olive oil. Although coronary heart disease was practically nonexistent in this country before 1920, by the mid-50s it was the leading cause of death among Americans. We were led to believe this was due to an increase in the consumption of animal fats, but it was actually the use of refined vegetable fats— margarine, Crisco, canola oil—that had risen by 400%. These are proven to contribute to cancer, heart disease, liver damage, immune system dysfunction, reproductive organ malfunction, asthma, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, and weight gain. Do I have your attention yet?
Fresh, unprocessed animal fats are loaded with the saturated fatty acids that give cell membranes integrity so they can function properly, allow calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, enhance the immune system, counteract harmful gut bacteria, and help you metabolize essential fatty acids. If ever there were an argument for incorporating old- school fats, it’s that.
Do yourself a favor and buy your fats at a butcher shop that sources from local, humanely raised animals. Your health and that of the planet (and our regional economies) depends on it. Seek out leaf lard to make the flakiest pie crusts. Wrap your next meatloaf in a lacy sheet of caul fat that will baste it as it bakes, imparting a richness and subtle flavor. Mix in suet with your apples and raisins to make a true mincemeat pie. Render your own tallow from the trimmings off your next brisket—do it in the smoker and you’ll have a delectable medium for roasting fingerlings. Just do it.
Crispy Smashed Potatoes
11⁄2 pounds baby potatoes
1⁄4 cup rendered fat of your choice, heated gently to liquefy as needed
Flaky sea salt
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place potatoes in a large pot, ideally in a single layer. Add water to cover by 3 inches and salt generously. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to a brisk simmer and cook until potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes well in a colander and set aside to dry.
Spread potatoes in a single layer on the lined baking sheet. With the bottom of a drinking glass or the flat side of a large spoon, gently smash the potatoes to flatten, making sure they don’t break apart completely. Drizzle each potato with fat, lifting to coat on all sides. Sprinkle generously with sea salt. Roast until golden and crisp, about 30– 40 minutes. Serve plain, sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs, or accompanied by the condiment of your choice. Serves 4