Whole Food Center
AN ODE TO ANIMAL FATS
The story of how whole milk and duck fat helped a man to forever change the way the love of his life (a formerly fat-phobic dietitian) would taste the world.
Liz and I would first meet in Kindergarten and from what my mom told me I was quite smitten with her. Alas, at the time my affection was unrequited.
We would drift apart and not see each other after that for many years. It was her loss for sure, everyone says so - right, Mom?
We would meet again many years later, coincidentally becoming coworkers. I must admit, as a real food advocate I was naturally suspicious of dietitians - my interactions with dieticians had been limited to those who recommended things like Ensure and fake butter spreads.
When she walked in to that job for the first time, I must admit I did not recognize her. However, she recognized me right away. To this day, she won’t let me live this down.
Since my job was working with supplements, my natural instinct was to ask her to name the B vitamins. Confirming my suspicions about dietitians, she was unable to name them (I will be sleeping on the couch for telling this story).
Over the following weeks we developed a slightly suspicious, but mutually respectful relationship that can only be built when interacting with the wonderfully unique and eccentric people of the town we worked in.
So many people in that town have a lot of trouble getting their tomatoes to grow.
Soon enough, this uneasy truce would face it’s greatest challenge yet - going out for coffee. How would coffee affect this tentative friendship? I think someone’s coffee order says a lot about them. Are you telling me when you are standing in line behind that person that orders eight pumps of caramel with whipped cream on top of their grande, soy milk macchiato with extra foam you are not secretly judging them? It’s ok, we all are.
She ordered a nonfat latte. To me and fat lovers everywhere, this is sacrilege. To paraphrase the great Ron Swanson, skim milk is just water pretending to be milk. I mean - why bother? I was aghast. Who was this person? Did I know her at all? I ordered a whole milk cappuccino. Sometimes I even like to get it made with half and half.
(Yes, Kathleen, I know I have gained some weight lately, but I sit a lot more than I used to!)
While I was wondering exactly what kind of person orders a nonfat latte, she was telling me (and still does), that I am just paying for foam. Sigh, she just did not understand.
After I recovered from my initial shock, I knew what I had to do. I had to convince her to one day try a full-fat latte. I knew it would change her life. I was compelled to spread the gospel of fat. She was a skeptic, but just like any fervent believer, I knew I had to save her taste buds from the eternal damnation of a fat-free existence.
After much badgering, pestering, and general annoyance for what seemed like an eternity, she relented. She agreed to try her very first full fat latte, insisting that she probably would not like it and it could not be that much better.
She approached the counter nervously, eyes darting about shamefully as she every so quietly uttered those fateful, life-changing words - “whole milk”. My heart skipped a beat. It was actually happening! Had I converted her? She had ordered it, but would she try it?
We stood by the counter, making small talk. The kind of small talk that everyone hates, just trying to pass time, while waiting for the big event. A cup was set on the counter, and an order called out - “WHOLE MILK LATTE FOR LIZ!”
She turned staring nervously at it, as if it were some kind of alien or animal about to bite her. She picked up the cup, staring at it, and it seemed as if time had stopped. She began slowly moving it towards her lips, the steam gently wafting up to her face. She gingerly took that first sip and her eyes lit up like the stars in the sky. I knew right then and there that she was hooked. She believes in milk fat.
One of my most favorite dishes of all time is duck fat fried potatoes. I would often talk of it fondly and finally one day she demanded (and by “demanded”, I mean “asked me lovingly” - love you, honey) to make them for her. Duck fat is not always the easiest thing to find at the grocery store and good quality duck fat is even harder to find. One day while shopping, lo and behold, there was a solitary container of duck fat sitting in the meat case. I could not believe it. One container meant I only had one shot at getting this right. I knew if I screwed this up, I would never forgive myself. I owed it to her and to fat fans everywhere to get this right. If it went bad, we could lose her to the dark side of bland, boring frying oils forever.
the things my nightmares are made of, the monsters under my bed.
Now that I had my duck fat, I set off searching for the perfect potatoes. As a proper Irishman, potatoes are very important to me. They may be a simple food, but they can be made into pure magic.
I spent at least a half hour, staring at the various potatoes, trying to decide what would make the best impression. They had to be crispy and golden on the outside, crunchy but soft on the inside. After finding the perfect Mr. Potato for my Mrs. Potato, I headed home on a mission. I was gonna do this right. I was going to turn three simple ingredients into a religious experience.
When making a dish like this, it is best to let each ingredient shine, don’t try and fancy it up with some truffle oil or other nonsense you saw some TV chef use or latest hot ingredient on Bloggy McBloggerson’s Famous Food Blog.
I still had two big decisions to make. The first was what shape to cut the potato in. Should it be french fries, wedges or thinly sliced circles? Each part of this process was so crucial.
The second big decision was to peel or not to peel the potatoes.
I decided to go with thinly sliced circles and leave the peel on. I know peel on can be risky, but it can add a great depth of flavor if you get it just right.
Feeling confident in my choices, I got home and began to scrub the potatoes, making sure every last bit of dirt was off those babies, I could not afford to chance this going bad because of some grit.
With my potatoes cleaned, I began the slicing. I needed to make sure every slice was nearly identical in thickness, so they would cook evenly. A few did not look right and I quickly ate them so no one would see (I grew up eating raw potatoes with salt, so a couple of raw potato slices is nothing to me). As I left the potatoes slices to dry, I placed the duck fat into a large pan and began to heat it up. I had to get it to just the right temperature - too low and they get soggy, too hot and everything burns. Thankfully, duck fat is very forgiving.
After I could see the temperature was just perfect, I started to gently place my potatoes in, taking care not to overcrowd the pan.
I was starting to get nervous as the moment of truth crept ever closer. The smell of frying potatoes drew her into the kitchen - she looked at the potatoes and at me with a smile, but I knew it was actually the look of disapproval that only your Italian wife can give, ever so sweetly, when she thinks you are doing something wrong in the kitchen.
The potatoes were starting to get that perfect brown crispy outer shell that I was looking for. Right when they reached that state of potato perfection, I began to take them out and place them ever so gently onto a paper lined tray to absorb the excess. I grabbed the salt and set about salting my spuds to perfection. You want to get just the right amount - not enough salt and they taste like nothing, too much salt and they are inedible. From high above, I sprinkled the flakes, watching as they fell ever so gently onto the freshly fried slices of heaven.
I called out for her, urging her to come quickly and eat them while they were in their peak of perfection.
She came over, giving the potatoes a good once over. She picked one up and put it in her mouth. It was the latte look over all again. I knew I had her.
The moral of the story is this: decadent, fatty foods are what will make a beautiful woman fall in love with you. Remember, the way to her heart is through her stomach and if you attempt to make that journey with canola oil and some fat free creamer, you are going to have a lot of lonely nights ahead of you.
Dedicated to Liz, the love of my life.
Josh's Duck Fat Fried Potatoes
Local Potatoes (if you're in the Hudson Valley, we love Hepworth Farms!)
Heat the duck fat to 375 degrees. The melted fat should be about 1 1/2" deep- the quantity you need will depends on your pan. I use a large saucepan.
Place the thinly sliced potatoes in the pan in a single layer - remember not to overcrowd them! Fry each side until golden brown and crispy. Take them out and place them on a tray or plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt from high above. Eat as many as you can before everyone else gets there and you only get a couple and have regrets later.