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Truth or rumor? NY chefs cook veggies...

kai_'s picture

Did anyone else hear the recent story that the reason so-called "plain" veggies taste so good at pricey restaurants is because they are cooked with fat? (Sorry, can't remember the source, but I believe it was said to be a NY newspaper.)

I can certainly vouch for the fact that fat tastes good--case in point: plain zucchini vs. cooked with chicken broth. (BTW, I love the latter, with lemon and pepper or hot sauce, as well.) Plain, steamed zucc begs me for butter (I oblige); otherwise, I like to saute in olive oil, garlic, etc.

dibble's picture

(post #25890, reply #1 of 55)

Squash,crook neck, (yellow) zucs and some pumpkin
can be sliced,however you like, dredged in flour and fried in bacon grease or lard. Foods cooked in fats will have a crispness you can't get from oils or shortning. I have used fats to stir fry to determine taste of veggies this way. Good taste. In todays culture fat is out but is a sourse of good taste for many foods.

Gerard's picture

(post #25890, reply #2 of 55)

I worked in a trendy spot that put raw sliced carrots in a saute pan with 1/2 cup water and a blob of butter, cover and simmer, when almost all water is gone they are juz right and the remaining water emulsifies with the butter to make a nice glaze, is that cooking with fat?


Gerard's picture

(post #25890, reply #3 of 55)

Also, I remember when the food writers finally clocked on that we make soup with water as often as not.
You don't always need stocks and veg soups in particular can taste cleaner.

Regards, Gerard

Chiffonade_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #4 of 55)

You can usually find out beforehand, via the waitstaff, if a vegetable is prepared with an inordinate amount of fat. Most restaurants, especially those where a good deal of $ is spent, will be quite forthcoming with info in the face of dietary restrictions. In the "better" places, you can even request "plain steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of olive oil." With more and more people observing healthier eating, white-table-cloth restaurants realized that they need to cater to this interest, or lose patrons.

It's very rare (at least in my experience) that a restaurant doesn't publish every aspect of the dish...i.e. "Angus beef with a bleu cheese creme, rosemary and mesclun greens." They tend to over explain dishes and by the time you need to make a decision on an entree, your head is spinning with all these details.

The "French" restaurants tend to use more butter and cream (a stereotype, sure, but one I have come to see more often than not). The Italian restaurants tend to lean heavily on olive oil as their fat of choice.

When in doubt, ask.

aussiechef's picture

(post #25890, reply #5 of 55)

Le Cirque used to make mashed potato with half potato and half butter. Heard it from the chef who made it.

One of the reasons that home cooks can't quite get some of the flavours of restaurants is that they undersalt and use way less fats and oils in comparison. Some cooking teachers around here have near riots on their hands when the students see just how much of both goes into the food. And the chef/demonstrators who cut down on the salt and fat
i because
they know that there will be complaints, then have the problem of the food not tasting as good as it does in their restaurant.

Jean_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #6 of 55)

"Le Cirque used to make mashed potato with half potato and half butter. Heard it from the chef who made it."
Exactly the reason we are eating at home--most of the time!! You DO get to dislike the "feel" of the fat in your mouth when you learn to eat right.

MEAN_CHEF's picture

(post #25890, reply #7 of 55)

How else would you cook them if you want them to taste good. Where there's fat there's flavor.

leaf_lady's picture

(post #25890, reply #8 of 55)

I had a good laugh about this - years ago, in Memphis, my friends took me to a "really good family restaurant." The green beans were mushy and swimming in melted bacon grease, and the mashed potatoes congealed when they started to cool a little - from the lard they added. And they gave you butter on the side. My friends liked the place because the food was always "seasoned good."

I quickly found out that when most folks said "seasoning," they meant lard or bacon grease. In the years I spent in the South, that was almost always the case. The words, "I just added some seasoning" was something I learned to cringe at.

Chiffonade_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #9 of 55)

Aussie...My S.O. now works in the best restaurant in Durango, Colorado, called
i Seasons.
He is currently doing prep, and told me that the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes used...gasp...a GALLON of cream and a commensurate amount of butter. (I am not sure what the proportion to actual potato was, but if it made
i him
wide eyed, I can only imagine it was not 40 lbs.)

People don't understand sometimes that omitting or even
i halving
the salt makes a marked difference in the recipe's outcome. And sad but true, where there's fat, there's flavor.

So, it looks as though this
i doesn't
only happen in New York :)

mangia!'s picture

(post #25890, reply #10 of 55)

I believe it's true that fat adds flavor. I also believe it's true that the fat can be way overdone. Now instead of enhancing flavor, it's smothering it, and what you have is a preponderance of grease. When you start eating lighter your palate changes. You want to leave a table feeling like you've just tasted something delicious, not just swallowed a bottle of oil . It's all about balance. Often just a smidgen of butter in the finish of something is all it needs to taste great if you've followed other flavor principles ( good ingredients, broths, wines, reductions, aromatics, herbs, zests, flavoring agents of various kinds etc.) in the production of the dish. Yes?

Also, frehness does count. I'm always buying carrots, and never getting around to cooking them. Last time I bought some carrots with the greens still attached, and cooked them THAT day, gosh they were good!

Cissy_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #11 of 55)

You are talking about an article in this past Wednesday's
i New York Times
"Dining" section. I think the website is and you will have to register to check out the article, but it's worth reading.

zally_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #12 of 55)

Now, this is a subject close to my heart!
Our local newspaper (1.9 million readers on weed-days -- much higher on week-ends) has a regular Saturday feature where diners can request recipes for dishes they enjoyed at local restaurants.
The chefs who are considerate enough to publicize their recipes, scale them down to quantities to serve 4.
Almost without fail, I am horrified -- no, AGHAST -- at the ingredients: 1 pound butter, 2 cups 40% cream, etc. ----- for FOUR PEOPLE!! And these are 'fine dining' restaurants, not 'greasy spoons'. If someone were to suggest that we pour 1/2 cup of 40% cream on our morning Wheaties, we would gag. Yet we cheerfully fork out money (up to 3 digits' worth) for this stuff. Sure, it tastes good, sometimes if you're lucky - great, but is it worth forfeiting several years of my life for a meal that may be memorable for perhaps a week?
This continent's health agencies are now agreeing that obesity (not cancer, not high blood pressure, not arteriosclerosis but OBESITY) will be the future's biggest health hazard of all.
And so my question: do restauranteurs have a moral and ethical obligation to their customers to address this concern???
Sorry, this sounds a bit like a rant -- and maybe it is. Interested in your comments.

Sandra_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #13 of 55)

Since reading a few years ago that low-fat diets are a contributing cause in depression, I've given up entirely worrying about fat content.(It's one of my favourite bits of news about food and illness -- right up there with the discovery that a good Cabernet Sauvignon can forestall heart disease, and that garlic really is good for what ails you, and that too much tofu is a contributing factor in early-onset Alzheimer's.)

I absolutely refuse to worry about fat content when I'm paying serious money for a serious restaurant meal. I don't figure I'm paying for the chef's moral guidence, or to have anyone hover over my plate warning me of the many dietary sins I'm about to commit. I just want great food. For most of us, that kind of meal is an indulgence we treat ourselves to a couple of times a year, or at most once a month. How much damage

Inebriated_Chef's picture

(post #25890, reply #14 of 55)

Just do what the French have been doing for years, with good "arterial" results, drink one glass of red wine per serving....or is that two glasses?

Nice_Chef's picture

(post #25890, reply #15 of 55)

I worked with a chef who liked to dip a handful of bacon in hollandaise and wash it down with heavy cream straight from the carton. Theres fat content for you.

Jean_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #16 of 55)

Sandra, what happened?? Did you cork-off in the middle of that sentence? Now THAT'S too much damage!!

Sandra_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #17 of 55)

WHOOPS!...forgot what I was going to say! (Oh well, I can always blame all that tofu I ate when I was young and foolish...)

kai_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #18 of 55)

LOL, and what's worse, that sounds kinda good!

aussiechef's picture

(post #25890, reply #19 of 55)

Yo Smittyroo???? Was it my imagination or did I post a message here on Monday just before Site Collapse, and you replied with a nice reply about extended families? Sean, did you eat it?

Sandra_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #20 of 55)

Sean -- think I had a message here before the Big Crash of 04/99, too. Actually I'm glad it got deleted, but just wondering -- is there some new policy at Taunton we should all know about?

Smittyroo_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #21 of 55)

YUP, it was eaten by the cyber/ethernet goblins.Part of what I said was that a great premise of yours, fine meals, small portions, extended time around the table would make a good feature story for Fine Cooking. What it needs is for Tom Brokaw to give it 2 minutes... I thought about the really good food, less calories because of the portions,the camradarie of friends, the time spent with loved ones and think it should become a national movement...

aussiechef's picture

(post #25890, reply #22 of 55)

I'll dredge the tatty remains from my memory and re-run it. The issues here are very close to my heart and I'd love to hear what others think. Smittyroo, it won't be exactly the same but the gist is there...national movement full steam ahead!

May I put forward an idea that perhaps this country (USA) has become so obsessed with what "right" eating is that it has lost sight of two equally important issues: portion size and the stressful way in which people eat. At least, I observe it as stressful in California.

To be specific: this year, we will have relatives and friends visit from Belgium, Denmark and home, and our family has to ( willingly) change our eating habits. I will be cranking
i up
the cream and butter content, and the richness of the food in general, but
i downsizing
the portions. We will also have more smaller courses rather than one or two big ones, and this all takes time to prepare and to eat. What matters is not the amount of food there is but the conversation and laughter and just the joy of being together. It is not a fuel stop, but a time to feed our souls.

Our family will have to change our whole schedules, once again willingly, to accomodate hour long slow lunches. This tranquility in the middle of the day is quite contagious and we feel greatly less stressed out a few days into our relatives' visits.

Perhaps it is not
i what
we eat that really matters, but
i how
we eat.

Sandra_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #23 of 55)

Aussie -- I couldn't agree more. I'll go you one better.IMNSOHO, afternoon siestas are one of the great civilizing influences in the world. I love the idea that everything comes to a full stop for an hour or two after a leisurely lunch, then, fully revived, business goes on as normal until seven or eight o'clock at night, then everyone stops everything for an equally leisurely evening meal.
Someone mentioned that obesity is a critical health issue in North America. Anorexia is another, equally lethal problem -- it just has the veneer of social acceptability ("You can never be too thin..." Yeah, well, tell that to a 16 year old girl who is literally starving herself to death.)

I don't get it -- here we are, the richest,(potentially) best-nourished society in human history, and we're so obsessed with food that we can't simply enjoy the modest pleasures of the table without some kind of guilt trip. We turn our noses up at food, unless it's some nutritional hole in the ground that is heavily targeted at our kids first, or it has to be 'low fat', or guaranteed 'organic', or gets some seal of approval from some over-paid, elitist food snob, or meets some other (usually mindless) criterion of perfection. No wonder we're eating (or not eating) ourselves sick!

Rant endeth.

Chiffonade_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #24 of 55)

I thought I was going out of my mind (the jury's still out...) but I wanted to reply to that message and say I heartily agree about the stress level being more to blame than the food we eat. What's the good of eating granola, tofu, salads and carrot juice, to tie yourself to your desk and computer for 19 hours a day?

While it is considered "respectable" to make megabucks and keep in touch with your family via cellphone and fax, I don't think this is an acceptable replacement for the nightly meal. That gathering benefits all parties who participate. The kids are grounded and secure in the knowledge that the
i people responsible for putting them on this Earth
are available to them. If there is a question or a problem, there is NO substitute for a parent looking at a child and having an inkling something is wrong...asking about it, even to the point of probing. That kid knows you care. Star Wars collectibles and PlayStation don't say "I love you" like that day to day contact. The "reconnection" that happens with families having meat loaf and mashed potatoes (...and textbook blood pressure) restores the parents as well - knowing what your kid is into and being there for them gives parents part of their sense of purpose too.

The huge-conglomo-corporations entice staff to stay at their desks by paying up to $20 a NIGHT for dinner allowance. Some, not all companies lay the stipulation that you eat at your desk in order to be totally reiumbursed. How can you allow your body to absorb a meal while you are looking at a spreadsheet on your monitor 2 feet away? And what kind of ideal is this to perpetuate?? (And don't tell me work ethic...) Ever see that ad with the "supercharged" family going on fast forward throughout their day, week, month, year, LIFE??? Is this what is considered effective living now? Do they have I.V. units in the car? Why stop for a meal???

People need to "power down", or "be off." If people made it their business to be home for dinner, or at least convene for ONE UNHURRIED MEAL (it doesn't have to be dinner), I think a lot more than health problems can be averted.

It all ties into food and cooking being more than slapping raw food on a pan, and sliding cooked food on a plate. It's deeper...whether we like it or not.

I'll get off my soap box now.

MEAN_CHEF's picture

(post #25890, reply #25 of 55)

Those of you who can remember the book "Future Shock" may realize that we are living it now.

Juli's picture

(post #25890, reply #26 of 55)

I agree with you Jean. I think you get used to the flavor of fat and so it tastes good. Once you get used to eating with very little fat, you realize that you can actual taste the food you're eating -- and that it tastes so much better not coated in butter, cream or olive oil.

StevenHB_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #27 of 55)

At the risk of this message being lost in the recovery process:

I heard a story on NPR yesterday about the "Slow Meal" movement. It was started by some Italians in reaction to the opening of a McDonald's in Rome. Basically, they're evangelizing the world (including the capitol of fast-food, the USA) on the benefits of people eating quality food, well-prepared, together, while having reasonable conversation over the table.

Kinda like what you are all talking about...

kai_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #28 of 55)

Hi Steven,

I will search their archives for that. Sounds like a movement I'm ready for (as I sit at my desk eating lunch). Sheesh, at least it isn't fast food.

Thanks :)

FlavourGirl_'s picture

(post #25890, reply #29 of 55)

I think the way American's eat is dictated by the way in which they live. Two income families, kids that do a number of activities at a time. Who has time to cook a meal and sit down and enjoy it with a schedule such as this? I also see a trend that people do not even want to cook from scratch. Just look at the profusion of ready-to-eat, pre-processed food on the market today.

Meals are a time to gather and share, our food and ourselves. I say slow down and enjoy what you have, it may not be there tomorrow.

aussiechef's picture

(post #25890, reply #30 of 55)

* - interesting organisation. A part of it (called the Ark) involves food preservation - like stashing away a supply of indigenous beans from Bosnia so that the farmers have a supply when everything is over; looking after century old orange trees in Nice; helping cultivate Sun Crest peaches, wonderfully sweet peaches that supermarkets don't stock because they don't fit the right image etc etc.