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Tim Chambers

Fat=Flavor? The role of fat in the cooking process

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Hello all,

I have been cooking professionally for a few years now, and i have heard a wild range of things about fat and what is does for food.

Initially, I was taught that where there is fat, there is flavor. someone recently told me that it depends on what kind of fat it is, and how it binds with the molecules of food. some would deny both of those and just say that it only adds richness and texture to food.

I am curious about what happens with fat and when, depending on the application. does it carry flavor? if so, how? what effect does it have on the food product itself? etc.

your responses are appreciated, thanks!

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Certain flavour compounds are only soluble in water, some only in fat, and some only in alcohol. Which is why people suggest adding a splash of vodka to a dish to bring out x amount of flavour (as most dishes already contain water and fat). That's pretty much it.


Edited by Michael Speleoto (log)

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Fat does a lot of things. It can allow food to cook at a higher temperature and develop flavors they wouldn't otherwise, like frying potatoes gives them a crispy brown crust (maillard reaction & caramelization) they can't really get from baking or boiling. (McGee tested baked potatoes rubbed in oil and baked without, with oil was better) Sauteing onions brings out flavors that boiling can't, that's why so many recipes start with cooking an onion in oil or butter and then adding liquids.

Some fats have flavor naturally, like some olive oils or butter. Others are fairly flavorless like shortening or grapeseed oil. Obviously adding a flavorful oil will add flavor to a dish, while pouring a lot of grapeseed oil all over a dish won't be useful.

Some flavors are fat soluble and can be infused in oil, some at room temperature, some need to be heated -like chile oils. Once infused, those oils obviously add flavor to a dish.

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There is fat, and there is oil. In addition to taste, it's about mouth feel. Oil can't give the same mouth feel.

Ice cream = fat

Puff pastry = fat

Bacon = fat

Leaf lard is priced because it lacks flavor

dcarch

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I'm not a professional chef and have responsibility to satisfy only my tastes and those of my family and guests. When I eat meat at a restaurant and encounter fat, I cut it away and set it aside to NOT eat. When I prepare meat at home, I select relatively lean cuts, such as tri-tip, and trim away as much fat and silverskin as I have the patience for prior to marinating or cooking. My own family agrees that this is how they prefer it. For me, meat should be savory, so I usually marinate and cook with techniques that increase the savory flavor with umami-increasing ingredients. Whatever fats I cannot trim away, I attempt to render, though I will not sacrifice tenderness to achieve this. I realize that there is a different school of thought regarding fat, that to some taste buds the roots of meatiness are in the fat, but this is not the case according to my tastes. And everyone who has eaten my lean, medium rare sous vide tri-tip loves it.

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Fat increases viscosity, and allows liquid foods, be they meat juices or sauces or whatever, to sit on your tongue a little bit longer. That, along with the issue of fat soluble flavors, is what gives the impression that fat increases flavor. The same is true with gelatin. As you reduce a stock you loose some aromatics but the increased viscosity lets the liquid stay on your tongue longer and thus you perceive more flavor. In reality, both fat and gelatin mask flavor to some degree, but there is a big difference between perception and reality.

Do a test. Take some orange juice and taste it, then add a small percentage of xanthan gum to the juice to give it a more tongue coating texture and see whether the taste becomes stronger because it stays longer on your palate. Or just recall the intensity difference of a wine with a long finish to a short one.

There are downsides to lingering flavors, though. They are neither a positive nor a negative, they just are.

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thanks for all the replies everyone.

Does anybody know of a list of soluble compounds in different categories (water, fat, alcohol)?

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thanks for all the replies everyone.

Does anybody know of a list of soluble compounds in different categories (water, fat, alcohol)?

There has to be at least a million.

dcarch

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thanks for all the replies everyone.

Does anybody know of a list of soluble compounds in different categories (water, fat, alcohol)?

There has to be at least a million.

dcarch

Likely more. Heston Blumenthal mentioned on TV once that he had some software which listed all identified compounds that allowed you to search by association or something. No idea what it's called, if it's easy to acquire or even exists, but you might be able to find it if you hammer google for a while.

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I posited a similar topic years ago; fat carries flavour, so why do ( at least American ) recipes have you cook the aromatics in the meat fat, and THEN drain it? I have much better luck by cooking the meat (ground beef, sausage, etc) first, draining most of the fat, then adding aromatics and spices. (Herbs go in twords the end of the simmer-braise step to steep in the hold-over time) Recipes like this are known in my home as "Let's go to the bar" dishes, when all you need to do is reheat the main dish and make the starch. Oh, yeah, and the salad, if any...

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I'm not a professional chef and have responsibility to satisfy only my tastes and those of my family and guests. When I eat meat at a restaurant and encounter fat, I cut it away and set it aside to NOT eat. When I prepare meat at home, I select relatively lean cuts, such as tri-tip, and trim away as much fat and silverskin as I have the patience for prior to marinating or cooking. My own family agrees that this is how they prefer it. For me, meat should be savory, so I usually marinate and cook with techniques that increase the savory flavor with umami-increasing ingredients. Whatever fats I cannot trim away, I attempt to render, though I will not sacrifice tenderness to achieve this. I realize that there is a different school of thought regarding fat, that to some taste buds the roots of meatiness are in the fat, but this is not the case according to my tastes. And everyone who has eaten my lean, medium rare sous vide tri-tip loves it.

I also find that leaner cuts have a "meatier" texture/taste. Sometimes I crave a lean medium done steak with A-1 but, I do however, mostly prefer a well marbled cut done medium rare with some nice Char on the grill.

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I'm not a professional chef and have responsibility to satisfy only my tastes and those of my family and guests. When I eat meat at a restaurant and encounter fat, I cut it away and set it aside to NOT eat. When I prepare meat at home, I select relatively lean cuts, such as tri-tip, and trim away as much fat and silverskin as I have the patience for prior to marinating or cooking. My own family agrees that this is how they prefer it. For me, meat should be savory, so I usually marinate and cook with techniques that increase the savory flavor with umami-increasing ingredients. Whatever fats I cannot trim away, I attempt to render, though I will not sacrifice tenderness to achieve this. I realize that there is a different school of thought regarding fat, that to some taste buds the roots of meatiness are in the fat, but this is not the case according to my tastes. And everyone who has eaten my lean, medium rare sous vide tri-tip loves it.

I also find that leaner cuts have a "meatier" texture/taste. Sometimes I crave a lean medium done steak with A-1 but, I do however, mostly prefer a well marbled cut done medium rare with some nice Char on the grill.

To each his or her own, and to different cuisines too.

If I had a plate of KL Hokkien Mee and it was NOT done with lard, glorious pig lard, and with PLENTY of pig fat lardons (rendered cubes of pig fat) scattered into and on it, it would be a severely defective dish. Somehow I suspect that many (traditional Chinese heritage) diners who appreciate this dish would also think so, I think. ;-)

ETA: Brazilian picanha usually requires the thick layer of fat to be left on while cooking - I must assume that you will not be indulging in this. As you said and I concur, to each his or her own. (I found it interesting to read about your preferences regarding tri-tip, as it sits next to/close to the picanha cut, a.k.a. top sirloin cap or rump cap in the USA.)


Edited by huiray (log)

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I posited a similar topic years ago; fat carries flavour, so why do ( at least American ) recipes have you cook the aromatics in the meat fat, and THEN drain it? I have much better luck by cooking the meat (ground beef, sausage, etc) first, draining most of the fat, then adding aromatics and spices. (Herbs go in twords the end of the simmer-braise step to steep in the hold-over time) Recipes like this are known in my home as "Let's go to the bar" dishes, when all you need to do is reheat the main dish and make the starch. Oh, yeah, and the salad, if any...

I always wondered about that too. Various recipes call for you to sauté or fry this and that in the oil with lots of stuff, then ask you to decant off the oil and throw it away. (((Shakes head)))

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That's a heck of a good question, judiu. In some cases I can see the reason to add seasonings first - for instance, if you want to cook spices or aromatics in a dry pan for toasting purposes - but otherwise it would seem that adding the aromatics before draining the fat would mean losing some of the flavor. I'll have to start paying attention now, to see what I actually do!

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Certain flavour compounds are only soluble in water, some only in fat, and some only in alcohol. Which is why people suggest adding a splash of vodka to a dish to bring out x amount of flavour (as most dishes already contain water and fat). That's pretty much it.

That's true but additional flavors will be imparted depending on the flavors in fat, water and alcohol. Vodka adds alcohol without much additional flavor. Wines have flavor to add along with the flavor components drawn out by the alcohol. Broth or stock adds flavor to water and bacon fat will be different from duck fat or butter.


Edited by Norm Matthews (log)

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I posited a similar topic years ago; fat carries flavour, so why do ( at least American ) recipes have you cook the aromatics in the meat fat, and THEN drain it? I have much better luck by cooking the meat (ground beef, sausage, etc) first, draining most of the fat, then adding aromatics and spices. (Herbs go in twords the end of the simmer-braise step to steep in the hold-over time) Recipes like this are known in my home as "Let's go to the bar" dishes, when all you need to do is reheat the main dish and make the starch. Oh, yeah, and the salad, if any...

I always wondered about that too. Various recipes call for you to sauté or fry this and that in the oil with lots of stuff, then ask you to decant off the oil and throw it away. (((Shakes head)))

Fats absorb and carry flavours. Think about it, why is butter wrapped in foil? What happens if you store unwrapped or poorly wrapped butter next to, say.. a raw onion in the fridge? Ever fry up an egg that tasted of celery or curry? Why does chocolate come in (or should) foil wrapped packaging?.

You can use this to your advantage. Many Chefs store fresh truffles in a tightly sealed mason jar with cubes of butter or eggs in the fridge. When I make fruit cake, I cream my butter with aromatics (spices, booze, dried fruit, vanilla, etc) a day or two ahead, put it in the fridge to "ripen", and it really makes a difference.

Oh, one more thing. Some vitamins are fat soluable ("B", if I remember correctly) and some or water soluable.

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