Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On easy Slow Foods at home

Winter doesn't seem to be letting up, and for that reason (& cuz they're delicious) I've been focusing on "larder" items more than ever -- not butter or bacon, but other delectable, fatty food items I can prepare myself. I definitely try to "waste not want not" in my kitchen, but since I don't compost, I often have food scraps.

This past weekend I made the last of the meat I'd bought from Blood's Farm Slaughterhouse in the fall -- a butterflied leg of lamb. After trimming all the fat off the outside & some from the inside, I had probably a pound or more of lamb fat - mmmmm. I've read various studies touting the benefits of brown fat over white/yellow beef or chicken fat, and it's delicious, so I didn't want to throw it out. All it took was a quick glance at a google search, and I was rendering my lamb fat in a medium saucepan over a very low flame. It cooked slowly for about 3 hours, and I had to stir it every few minutes so that the chunky parts wouldn't burn. Although my entire kitchen smelled like boiled sheep fat, my finished product - a jar of pure, pale brown lamb tallow - will last me a LONG time, and only a tiny bit will add amazing flavor to pilafs, stews and casseroles.

My other fatty homemade delicacy is real crème fraîche (fresh cream, a fermented french dairy product similar to sour cream), made from heavy cream. Just like yogurt, crème fraîche is made by adding live bacterial cultures to fresh dairy. I happened to have a small bit of leftover crème in my fridge, so I added that -- approximately 2 tbsp -- to a pint of heavy cream. I mixed the two in a heat-safe glass bowl and left in in the oven set to warm for about 3 hours. I left the oven door open just a tiny bit so it wouldn't get too hot, since my oven is unpredictable. Then I removed the bowl from the oven, stirred the cream, and left it overnight. This afternoon I'll check on it and pop it in the fridge if it seems palatable.

The major recommendation I have for either of these slow foods is to use the freshest and most pure ingredients possible. Animal fat can be very rich in fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids, but if you don't know where the animal came from or what it ate, the final "purified" product could taste or function very differently from how it traditionally should. Likewise with cream, conventional brands of heavy cream are often adulterated with mono- and diglycerides, carageenan, and god knows what other stabilizers/emulsifiers/etc. (the stuff that leaves a waxy coating in your mouth -- NOT natural). This means that the crème fraîche you end up with will also leave that weirdness in your mouth and have a different taste than a product made from organic, unadulterated, non-UHT pasteurized heavy cream. Crème fraîche is really versatile and doesn't curdle with acid or heat. You can eat it with fruit or desserts, or add it to pureed vegetable soups, gravies, or sauces for an enriched flavor and super-velvety texture.

Just to quickly add a nutrition perspective -- these foods aren't exactly every day staples, but can definitely be part of a healthy, balanced diet. I don't eat a lot of junk food, sweets, or fried foods -- I prefer to include these kinds of indulgences in my diet. They're high in fat and cholesterol, but also rich in vitamins and nutrients that everyone needs to be healthy.