Monday, October 6, 2008

The Real: Rendered Veal Fat

Last week we sent two Ayrshire/Limousin crossbred bull calves out to the USDA slaughterhouse. Each was a little over two months old and had been raised on milk. The calves got to follow their mothers around the farm, learn to be cows and enjoy their, albeit brief, lives.

I'll post more detailed photos showing how I butchered them later on. But for now I'd like you to see how I treated the kidney fat (Note the kidney fat around the kidney which is located mid-left in the carcass;left).

Kidney fat makes superb shortening for baking, and has a sweet, umami taste, and a highly nuanced aroma that is brilliant with roasted and fried foods. Like all highly saturated fats kidney fat that is not really hot while it is in your mouth can have a "greasy" mouthfeel because of its high melting point (any fat that has a melt-point higher than body temperature is going to feel greasy if it's temperature is close to the temperature of your mouth).

However, considerations of texture and flavor aside for the moment, it is this high-melt point that in large part makes kidney fat ideal for baked preparations like short-breads -or anything that tends to spread during baking- and for frying. See, the longer a fat takes to melt in the oven, the more time the proteins in the dough have time to coagulate. Also the starches have more time to gel and stiffen before the dough spreads too far. So when you use fat with a higher melt point than say, butter, you almost always see less spreading and greater retention of the original (unbaked) shape of the dough -and kidney fat is no exception.

As for frying, well consider this: The same physical and chemical properties that give saturated fat it's high melt-point also give it a high smoke point. So kidney fat is great for frying because it takes a long time for it to smoke (creating bitter and potentially carcinogenic by-products) and burn. And people, if you have never eaten french fries cooked in highly saturated fat like kidney fat you are missing something real.

In my first restaurant job (a NYTimes Two-Star) I learned to make pommes frites (and chateau potatoes, pommes Pont Neuf, pommes souffle) in fat that we rendered from veal and pork kidney fat in almost exactly the same way that you see me doing it here in the slideshow below. We did not receive whole animals larger than lambs at Rene Chardin Restaurant, neither did we butcher and cook any animal while we listened to it's mother calling for it as I did last week.

Yeah, you read that right. Hearing that cow calling to it's calf as it lay on the table in my kitchen being cut up was sobering. Anyway...

I'm learning more about cooking in this job than I ever thought possible. I've got this whole other set of considerations regarding the ethical nature of what we chefs do staring me right in the face every day. It has not made my work any harder, but it sure as hell has made it different.

Look, I'm not going to start preaching about how important it is for every meat eater to raise, kill and butcher and cook his own food at least once. But it's working wonders for me.

If you need clarification beyond what is provided in the slide show, you know where to find me.


Jon in Albany, NY said...

About 18 months ago I assisted in butchering my first cow. It was 2 cows actually. They were being split between 3 families. I was either going to have an enormous amount of high quality beef to eat, or I was going to be a vegetarian with an enormous amount of beef to give away. In the end, I didn't become a vegetarian.

I can relate to the sobering experience. The two calves in the barn weren't happy with the sudden disappearance of their older buddies.

In exchange for the hides, a local butcher came, slaughtered the cows and quartered them. The sides hung in a walk-in for 2 weeks. Then we chose our cuts, wrapped them up, vacu-sealed the packages and froze them. The aging and butchering was done for cash.

While we were cutting up the sides of beef, my questions and the butcher's reaction to them made me think I was ahead of the curve. Apparently there are a lot of skirt steaks that get turned into hamburger because people don't know what they are.

Anyhow, after doing some reading and following this blog, I am certain that I am wasting a lot of these animals. The tongues and hearts get taken and used, but that is about as exotic as we got. I kept a lot of bones too.

In a few weeks, we will be slaughtering two more 22 month old steers. I'd love to hear thoughts on what else I should do. Just keep in mind that I am an enthusiastic home cook with no formal training.

Well...a little training. I've watched the consomme, duck and chicken videos.

Walt said...

Good show Bob, thought provoking. I wish more people could be involved in this level of preparation.

I'm certain a more up close and personal experience would result in a much more respect for the animal. And I'm sure we could all use that.

Thanks for the post.