The Joy of Fat

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Jennifer McLagan celebrates the joys of cooking with fat in her book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. She also discussed using leaf lard in cooking, especially in pastry. You can find leaf lard at Surfas in Culver City, California and at Prairie Pride Farm in Mankato, Minnesota.

Homemade Butter
Makes about ¾ cup

2 cups good quality high-fat whipping cream
½ tsp fine sea salt (optional)

Pour the cream into a bowl of a stand mixer and let it warm up to about 60°F, Using the whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium-low speed. The cream will thicken, become stiff, and then start to break down.  After 7 to 15 minutes, depending on the cream, it will separate into a milky liquid and globules of fat, and the latter will collect on the whisk.  Stop whisking.

Remove the pieces of butter from the whisk and place them in a fine-mesh sieve. Strain the liquid from the bowl through the sieve.  This liquid is true buttermilk, and you can drink it.  Rinse the pieces of butter under cold running water until the water runs clear. This rinses off the remaining whey, which could turn the butter rancid.

Using your hands, squeeze the butter hard to remove the excess water.  Place it on a work surface and knead it with your hands and a dough scraper to remove any remaining water.

If you prefer salted butter, work the salt into the soft butter with your hands.  Using your hands, shape the butter as you like, wrap it well, and refrigerate.  The butter will keep for up to a week.

Lamb Fat and Spinach Chapati
Makes 8 chapatis

1 bunch spinach
2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted
2 tsps cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 ½ tsps fine sea salt
3 Tablespoons rendered lamb fat, melted (see tip, below)
About ¾ cup water

Rinse the spinach well and remove the stems.  Transfer to a colander to drain.  Place a large frying pan over high heat and, when it is hot, add the spinach.  Cook stirring, until the spinach wilts.  Tip the spinach back into the colander and refresh under cold running water.  Squeeze out the water and chop coarsely; you should have about 1 cup.

Combine the spinach, flour, cumin, and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix.  Add 1 tablespoon of the lamb fat and pulse to blend.  Tip the flour mixture into a bowl, add the water, and stir with a fork to make a soft dough.  The amount of water needed will depend on your flour and the amount of water left in the spinach.  Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes to make a soft, pliable dough.  Let the dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper.  Divide the dough into 8 balls of equal size.  Working with one ball at a time and leaving the rest of them covered, toll the ball into 8-inch round and place on the prepared backing sheet.  Continue with the remaining balls, layering a piece of waxed paper between each dough round in the stack.  Keep the dough covered with a cloth.

Heat a cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat.  When the pan is hot, add a dough round and cook until small bubbles form and the bread form and the bread turns brown in spots, about 1 minute.  Turn the bread over and cook the other side until the bread puffs up, about 1 minute.  You can encourage the bread to puff by pressing down on the air bubbles as they form with a clean towel.  This will help the air expand through the dough and puff it up.

Brush one side of the cooked chapati with some melted lamb fat and wrap in a clean towel to keep warm and soft.  Repeat with the remaining dough rounds and serve immediately.

Tip: To yield enough lamb fat for this recipe you’ll need to render about 4 ounces of lamb fat.