by Jane Wangersky | February 13th, 2014 | Cooking Basics

ladle n sauce“Degrease” is a pretty self-explanatory word, but when do you need to do it? And even more importantly, how do you do it? After all, food, unlike lots of other things in the kitchen, can’t be degreased by sprinkling it with baking soda, washing it with dish detergent, or spraying it with that industrial grease remover you see at the hardware store.

As for when, there are a few rules of thumb:

If the recipe says degrease, do it. What if there’s not much grease to take out? You can decide whether you want to bother — your job is easier, but the fact that your ingredients contained less fat than the recipe writers expected may mean that the food dried out in cooking.

If there are more than a few circles of fat floating on the surface of your soup, sauce, or casserole, degrease. Fat may not be the dangerous substance we thought it was a few years ago, but too much of it ruins the taste and texture of food, and gives most people a queasy feeling.

If you have to look through a wall-to-wall transparent yellow layer to see the surface of your food, definitely degrease.

That’s when. Now for how. (But first, as a side note, let me say that fried food, like chicken and French fries, can be drained on paper towels, or even dabbed with them, if it seems too greasy.)

The easiest way to degrease is, unfortunately, the slowest, but do it if you have time — just put the dish in the fridge for a few hours. The fat, which is already at the top, will magically form a solid layer you can just lift off with a spatula and get rid of.

You can try to fast-track this process by putting the soup, sauce, or whatever in a small container and putting that in a larger container of ice or cold water. It’s never really worked for me, but I have no patience.

A gravy (or fat) separator is handy if you have a fairly large amount of mostly liquid food to degrease. It’s something like a small pitcher with the spout coming out of the lower part, so when the fat rises, you can pour off the non-fat part and just leave the fat behind. Well, except for the little bit of fat at the top of the spout, but nothing’s perfect.

Something else that may work for you is to roll up a paper towel, stick the end into the fat to soak some up, then cut off the grease-soaked part and repeat till you’ve got most of it. I got this from The Joy of Cooking.

Degreasing can be an essential step — so try the different methods till you find what works for you.

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