James Whelan Butchers: The F Word

I’m not going all Gordon Ramsay, uttering expletives and being profane, but I am going to talk about the other equally offensive F word; FAT. There is no doubt that this country, and indeed the western world, is in the grip of a growing problem with obesity. Sadly ‘Fat’ seems to have been framed, blamed and tried without jury or due consideration. It has been turned into a catch all for everything negative in the food world and has become very, very misunderstood in the process.

First things first; the flavour is in the fat! There, I’ve said it. Don’t come to me looking for ridiculously lean meat and then wonder why it’s bland and tasteless. Don’t remove all the skin from chicken or duck before cooking it and then wonder why you end up with dry, boring meat that needs a tonne of sauce to make it appetising. Yes, fat has calories but so do carbohydrates and proteins. In fact the body needs a certain amount of fat to function healthily. I don’t know what the written equivalent of a megaphone is, but imagine that I am shouting through a big one and saying:


Naturally occurring fat is essential to cooking delicious food. A traditional Sunday roast will be a triumph or a disappointment based on the naturally occurring fat content. Even if the fat is removed after cooking and never consumed, the fact that it was present while the meat was in the oven means that the joint is almost self basting and you are guaranteed a better tasting dinner. If the animal has been fed properly it will be beautifully marbled with thin vein like lines of fat running through it. Introducing fat to dishes is often a chef’s secret ingredient. Roast potatoes in real goose fat are the best. Use real suet in dumplings and you’ll never look back.

Fat has also been proven beneficial in boosting the immune system. I’ve mentioned it before but in case you missed it, chicken soup really does have medicinal benefits for the common cold. Known as Jewish penicillin, the curative properties exist in the fat of the chicken that usually surfaces to the top in home made chicken soup. Do not skim it off before administering it to the patient; that’s where the goodness is.

We have all heard the myths that eating animal fats will increase your cholesterol and increase your risk of heart attack and at best increase your waistline. I can assure you: studies back up the fact that naturally occurring animal fat eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet will not adversely affect your health. Eating fat does not make you fat. Eating more calories than you are burning off makes you fat.

Consuming too many Trans fats clogs the arteries, makes us fat and can kill us, but get the distinction right! Trans fats are not to be confused with naturally occurring fats. When you see people who are morbidly obese I will bet that not one of them will say that their weight problem is due to an over indulgence or addiction to avocados, fresh chicken with the skin on, joints of meat or oily fish.

Let’s prod the subject from another angle and ponder the proven discovery that the lowest incidence of heart disease in the world is among the Eskimo communities. What would you say is the basis of an Eskimo diet? Well it’s certainly not fruit and vegetables as last time I checked very little grows in the snow. You will, however, find that fish and meat are very popular. Equally when we look at the longevity and low incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean people; while we do find lots of fruit and vegetables, they also love their olive oil, their oily fish and fattier, slow cooked cheaper cuts of meat are very prevalent in rural areas. (In their case I personally believe the presence of sunshine has plenty to do with it also.)

What we want to avoid is too much saturated fat. You will find the most saturated fat in processed foods, particularly foods such as margarine, cakes, biscuits and pastries which are made with hydrogenated vegetable oils. Processed meat products, (not necessarily meat) such as manufactured burgers, sausages, pies, puddings and pasties can be high in saturated fat. If you like pies and puddings then make your own or look for the artisan alternatives; these are usually lower in saturated fats. Fried and deep fried fast foods can be lethal but remember crisps fall into this category also, although these days there are healthier alternatives available.

The main thing is to stop the confusion and being so afraid of fat. Life is for living and taste buds are for tasting. I’m all for balance, health and good nutrition and fat is very much part of a balanced diet. Get the right information and put the taste back into your cooking; find some fat!

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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