Beef tallow. The color will vary based on grass- vs. grain-fed beef, and other factors (photo courtesy Bare Food Provisions).
If you cook a lot, you may have tried recipes with chicken fat, coconut oil, duck fat, ghee and other fats that not on the list of traditional fats in American recipes (butter, lard, margarine, vegetable oils).
The popularity of the Paleo Diet has brought more animal fats to the table. The movement endorses minimally processed, unrefined fats and oils, including animal fats (THE NIBBLE takes no position on the merit of any particular eating plan).
In the tradition of dairy- and beef-centric countries, the cooking fats were butter and beef tallow, plus lard from pigs. Beef tallow and lard are made from the rendered fat trimmed from the butchered carcass.
Along with pure lard, duck fat, goose fat and other animal fats, beef tallow is enjoying a resurgence within America’s food culture. The movement was first led by chefs seeking new punches of flavor, before Paleo and related diets emerged.
An organization called The Healthy Fats Coalition (HFC) has proclaimed July 13th the first annual National Beef Tallow Day, a celebration of beef tallow, rendered beef fat, as a cooking fat.
HFC is especially committed to raising awareness about the health benefits of natural animal fats like beef tallow. Their home page quotes family physician Dr. Cate Shanahan:
“Nature doesn’t make bad fats—factories do.”
[Editor’s note: If you have any questions about the best fats for you, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.]
July 13th is also National French Fry Day, and the message from HFC is clear: Fry those fries in beef tallow, duck fat or goose fat. All get very high marks from top chefs.
A 1985 article in The New York Times noted that eight of the country’s largest fast-food chains used beef tallow to fry their fries.
At that point, healthy fats like olive oil were beginning to get press. McDonald’s and others moved to vegetable oil beginning in 1990, when the press began to slam saturated fats as cardio-hostile. The word “hostile” might be better applied to fans who didn’t like the change.
The best tallow is fresh from the farm, with absolutely nothing added—no preservatives, no hydrogenation (which produces trans fats).
After the cows are butchered, the fat is rendered into pure tallow. The rendering process slowly heats the beef fat in a large kettle. Any solids, like bits of meat, are removed, and the pure tallow is packaged.
At room temperature, lard looks like butter or other dense animal fat. When heated, it has the appearance of oil.
Rendered fat will keep for about 12 months in the freezer, 6-8 months in the fridge and several weeks at room temperature.
SUET: KIDNEY FAT
Not all beef tallow is created equal.
You may have come across the word suet in older books. It is a special type of fat.
Suet is the hard white mass of fat surrounding the kidneys and loins of cattle (plus sheep and other animals). It has long been used in European cooking to make puddings, pastry and mincemeat.
Suet has the the cleanest and mildest taste of all the animal’s fat, and is what is sold by quality brands. Fat from grassfed beef fat is the best (although in the suet-loving past, all beef was grassfed!).
It’s very easy in a stock pot or slow cooker (here’s how). The biggest challenge is to get hold of the fat.
Before you start saving up your steak trimmings, note that the best-tasting tallow comes from the suet.
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