James Whelan Butchers: Beef Dripping, it’s the new Goose Fat!

I have no doubt that my ramblings this week on the merits of beef dripping and the fact that we have introduced it as a product in our shop, will create three distinct groups – those who remember it well, those who have heard of it but are not too sure of what it is or how to use it and those that wouldn’t know beef dripping if I put it in front of them right now.  I can confidently predict that those lines will be drawn by age with the first group having the oldest demographic.

Dripping, as the name suggests, is the fat that drips from meat as it cooks.  When I speak of dripping I would always mean beef dripping.  If you cook a roast of beef, the joint juices left in the pan when you remove the meat is effectively dripping.  If you were to let it cool it would solidify into a white substance.  We usually pour off all but a few teaspoons of this hot liquid fat and add it to the other ingredients to make gravy.  If you think about it, it’s the dripping that gives the gravy a great meaty flavour and not the stock, the flour or the onion.  You see dripping is more than just a fat to cook in; real dripping also has the essence of meat.  It’s that essence of meat that gives it such depth of flavour and that’s why every serious cook should always have dripping to hand.

Years ago dripping would have been found in every kitchen up and down the land.  In my own lifetime I have vivid memories of people in the shop asking for fat to make dripping at home.  I remember households where the dripping sat in a vessel on a shelf and it was the ‘go to’ fat for frying, basting and for making Yorkshire puddings.  It was also used for deep frying chips and battered fish.  For those of us in the 40 plus bracket we might sometimes linger on the thought that the traditional fry up or fish and chips today doesn’t taste quite the same as it did when we were kids.  While many would tell us we were just full of sentimental nostalgia, I can tell you that it has probably got to do with the fat the food is cooked in.

In our wisdom my generation traded the wonderful flavourful dripping for commercially produced oils and shop bought fats.  Quicker and more convenient perhaps, but without even going into the health merits (or demerits as is the case), we have been seriously short changed in the area of taste.  Our growing love of cooking with oil (and not olive oil which is the exception) has meant our children have become adults without any knowledge of a dripping taste experience. They’ve been truly robbed.

Recently at James Whelan Butchers we were getting more and more requests for dripping as people began to slowly cotton on to the wisdom of our grandparents.  While they wanted to use dripping, there is a case that a time poor society can’t make it themselves.  While dripping is the drips of fat that comes off meat when you cook it, there is another stage in the process before you can reuse it and have proper beef dripping that will last.  You must leave it to cool and form two distinct layers.  The first layer will be the white fat and the underneath layer will be a jelly like consistency.  The jelly is fantastic used pretty quickly in stews, casseroles or sauces but it is the white fat that needs to be taken off and clarified.  Clarifying is a simple process but it is time consuming and a little messy.  Basically you melt the fat slowly again once you have removed it from the jelly. When it has liquefied, strain it into a bowl or vessel and allow it to set.  We usually strain it through muslin for the best results.  Dripping is particularly good for browning beef of any kind as you are adding another layer of deep flavour to the already beefy taste.

Coming up to Christmas 2013 a bit of a public chef-y debate broke out about whether beef dripping or goose fat was better for cooking roast potatoes.  Leading the celebrities in the goose corner was Nigella Lawson who has been championing goose fat for years, while Heston Blumenthal, surrounded by his numerous Michelin stars, shouted loudly for beef dripping.  The debate raged and finally it seemed to come down to the fact that goose fat was certainly the secret to a perfectly crispy coat on the roast spud but beef dripping was where the taste was.  I’ve tried both and much and all as I hate to leave Team Nigella, on this topic I just have to.  Try the beef dripping on your roast potatoes and it will conjure a taste of childhood like never before. It’s what our mothers and grandmothers used and it really makes a difference.

You don’t have to save the fat from your roast or buy fat to make dripping, just pop into James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, Avoca Rathcoole and Monkstown and pick some up or you can order online. It’s a natural, tasty fat that has always been perfect for frying and cooking meat.  Try it today for yourself and find all the modern ways to use this old fashioned natural fat.  It makes perfect food sense.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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