What I’ve Learned (The Hard Way) About Cooking Fat

by Jane Wangersky | September 5th, 2013 | Cooking Basics

butterWhen I was about 11 and just beginning to try cooking from scratch instead of mixes, I decided I’d make things easier on myself by melting the butter for the recipe before I added it. Butter was butter, right? It didn’t matter whether it was solid or liquid.

Turned out it did. The “cake” I was making was not recognizable as a cake. It tasted okay, in a gooey way. At least I’d learned something:

Melted butter is not the same as unmelted butter. Yes, it’s a lot easier to mix with flour or whatever. But your recipe will not come out right.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few other things about cooking with fat — many of them the hard way.  Here are a few more of them:

Oil is not the same as melted butter. Or even melted margarine. (By the way, most of what I say here about butter is true for margarine also.)

A stick, or square, or quarter pound of butter, is half a cup. If your butter isn’t conveniently divided this way, there’ll usually be a chart on the wrapper to guide you. There are also metal butter measurers (which work better than a wrapper chart once the butter’s been opened).

You can also, for example, measure out half a cup of butter by putting half a cup of water in a measuring cup, then putting butter in till the water reaches the full cup mark.

Degreasing can make a sauce or gravy a whole lot better. If you don’t have time (as when do you ever?) to leave it in the fridge till the fat rises to the top, get a gravy separator. This is a container with a spout near the bottom, so you can pour off the liquid under the fat.

Another thing to get: A spray bottle for your cooking oil. Or splurge and buy your own refillable aerosol container. Either one is cheaper than buying a can of cooking spray week after week. You won’t get such an even coat with a spray bottle, but you can use a silicone brush to spread it more evenly.

Don’t use margarine as shortening — actual shortening is about half the price.

Drain the fat off your bacon as it cooks. In some families, this is an alien concept. But it helps the bacon get crisp.

Speaking of bacon fat, you can save it and use it in any dish where a slightly smoky flavor would fit in. Beef, pork, and chicken fat, however — well, don’t try this at home.

Much as I love kitchen gadgets, I feel no need for a pastry blender — I just mash my shortening into the flour with a good heavy fork. Besides, pastry blenders are hard to wash.

Then there’s butter vs. margarine, olive oil vs. canola . . . but that’ll all keep for another time.

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