The Benefits of Fat

The Benefits of Fat — Rib Eye Steaks with Herbed ButterThose of us of a certain age fondly remember the can of rendered bacon fat that your grandmother kept in the fridge (or some kept under the sink). It was used to prevent fried eggs from sticking to the pan on Saturday mornings or to slowly caramelize onions for Sunday night. (Frighteningly, some used to spread it on toast for lunch. A throwback to an era when money was tight and nothing was wasted.) But the main purpose for that can of fat was to add more flavor to everything.

For decades doctors have been telling us that fat is bad and because of that grocery shelves are filled with products that are fat-free. We have been told that fat will clog your arteries and raise your cholesterol levels. While it is true that the wrong fats will do this, it is also true that the body needs fat to function. What is also true? Fat is flavor. So what is a foodie to do? Finding the happy medium between healthy and yummy is what’s important when trying to lead a healthy yet tasty lifestyle. In other words, everything in moderation. Knowing when to go all out with a beautifully marbled steak and when to dial it back is key.

Fat is essential in cooking because it not only adds flavor but moisture as well. For example, you can make a burger out of lean ground chuck but it will never be as juicy or as packed with beefy meaty flavor because the fat needed to produce those results is missing. You could get away with using lean beef in a Bolognese sauce though because the meat will already be in a moist environment and it will lower the chances of your sauce tasting greasy.

BBQ aficionados know that a ribeye from the grill is one of the best things you can put in your mouth because of the extensive marbling in that particular cut of meat. You could also throw a nicely marbled New York steak on the grill and produce great results but, because New Yorks have less fat marbling, you have to be a bit more vigilant to keep them from being overcooked and dry. A filet mignon steak, while very tender, does not have as much fat marbling and therefore should not be cooked for long periods of time because it will be dry and you ruin a beautiful and expensive piece of beef.

Pork fat is a beautiful thing. Its flavor is the preferred addition for sausage makers who use their own fat to meat ratio in their recipes to create the perfect bratwurst, breakfast link or other sausages. Anyone who has had the pleasure of consuming a pork shoulder that has been slow roasted for hours should agree. The high-fat content in a pork shoulder breaks down and slowly bastes the meat as it cooks thus adding flavor and moisture to the meat that melts in your mouth. And then there’s bacon…

Pork loins have very little fat in them and because of that, they make a healthy alternative to always eating chicken breast. The lack of fat though means that they will dry out much faster when cooking. If you are cooking the full loin, it’s best to add moisture with a brine—or slice the loin into 1/2 inch chops and sauté them in a pan.

The bottom line is this. If your goal is an awesome steak dinner right off the grill, you are better off going with the cut that has the higher fat content, or risk disappointment. Leaner cuts are great too but save those for the recipes with more complicated ingredients than salt and pepper.

Rib Eye Steaks with Herbed Butter
Adapted from Rea Drummond on the Food Network
Yields 4 servings

For the Herbed Butter
(make in advance)
2 sticks salted butter, softened
1/3 cup thyme leaves, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
A pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 lemon, zested and halved
Salt, optional

For the Steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 rib eye steaks, 2 inches thick
2 tablespoons butter

Make the Herbed Butter
It is best to make the herbed butter well in advance. The day before is best, or the morning of, if you are serving the steaks in the evening.

Place the softened butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Whip the butter until it’s fluffy. Add the thyme, red pepper flakes, black pepper, garlic, lemon zest and the juice of half the lemon. Mix it until it’s totally combined, scraping the sides as needed.

Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Lay out a long piece of plastic wrap and scoop the butter mixture in a long strip down the middle. Carefully pull one side of the plastic wrap over the butter, squeezing it gently to form it into a log. Continue to roll the log of butter into a roll. When it’s all rolled up, twist the ends, like a piece of candy, until they become very taut. This will press the butter into a cohesive roll.

Place the roll of butter into the fridge to harden, or into the freezer if you need to speed the process.

Make the Steaks
Preheat the oven to 475 ºF.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the steaks.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. When it is golden brown, sear the steaks for about 45 seconds on each side. Set the pan with the steaks in the preheated oven to finish cooking (about 3 minutes).

Remove the steaks from the oven and allow to rest for five minutes.

Lay a thick slice of Herbed Butter on top of each steak so it will begin to melt. Serve immediately .

Any leftover Herbed Butter is great on pasta, rice, or a crusty baguette.

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