The problem? Healthy means something different for everyone and for some, it means low-fat and nonfat meals. And while there are countless ways to cut fat in everything from hearty dinner entrees to classic desserts, cooking everything low fat can come at a cost.
Fat and Flavor
One of the most prominent voices speaking out against using as little fat as possible?
Meet Samin Nosrat: professional chef, author and teacher who trained in Italy and is one of five food columnists for The New York Times.
According to her, there are four essential elements to cooking: fat, acid, heat.
Fat, she insists, is necessary because it enhances flavor, enhances texture, and produces “mouthwatering dishes”
Always opting for low fat versions of dishes, or using the same fat over and over because it has a “healthier profile”, can not only limit flavor but also impede a chef’s ability to create stunning dishes.
So when to go low fat and when to indulge? A breakdown of three instances where chefs should rethink low or nonfat.
Don’t Skimp on Fat: Salads and Potatoes
It may seem strange to put spuds and salads in the same category, but both should almost always have at least some element of fat with them. Clients and chefs may think fat free salad and baked potatoes is a light and healthful summer meal but it’s anything but. Not only is it bland and tasteless, but it may actually have negative health ramifications.
The Need for Fat: From a nutritional standpoint the case could not be more clear. Salads and even sweet starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes contain fat soluble vitamins, which cannot be properly absorbed without dietary fat. In addition, healthful as vegetables are, they do not contain the proper nutrients to keep clients feeling full and satisfied.
From a culinary standpoint, the richness of dressing or butter rounds out the fresh and almost sweet notes of vegetables. Contrast is the key to a tasty plate, and fats in both potatoes and salads react also with sweet and savory notes.
Add it In: Adding fats doesn’t mean that have to have no health benefits. Toss salads with slivered almonds, avocado, or create an olive oil or canola oil dressing. For baked potatoes, serve with homemade whipped butter, which has fewer calories but still the flavor profile of butter. You can also serve with low fat Greek yogurt for the tanginess of sour cream. Skip non fat, though, as it does not have the health benefits or the luxurious texture and flavor as full or reduced fat.
Don’t Skimp on Fat: Grilling
Indoor and outdoor grilling is a tricky method of cooking, full of potential for signature flavor but sensitive to temperature zones and method. Playing too much with too little fat can be risky just like using too much fat.
The Need for Fat: On a practical level, fat keeps meat and vegetables from sticking to foil or grill plates. You can technically use cooking spray, but it won’t have the same flavor, not to mention it will do nothing to help lean meats from drying out.
Add It In: Chicken, non fatty seafood, and lean cuts of beef, can dry out due to high heat and leave a bland and rubbery finished product. To prevent this, select fattier selections or cuts or create a marinade with some element of fat before placing them on the grill. And when using leaner selections or vegetables, cook for longer at lower heat levels.
Don’t Skimp on Fat: Special Occasions
There are countless low and non fat recipes for dessert, with everything from diet soda cake to non fat muffins. And while some of these are well executed, even delicious, they may not be what a chef should serve for a special event.
The Need for Fat: Having absolutely no fat in desserts actually detracts from the nutritional profile and often leads chefs to adding more sugar or salt to make up for lost flavor. Special occasion desserts are ones enjoyed upon occasion and should also be at their best in terms of both texture and presentation.
Add it In: Birthday? Anniversary? These occasions only come one time a year and most clients will want something truly phenomenal. So stick to classic treats and don’t skimp on the fat. Cheesecake, cake, and even pies all need fats in order to marry the sweet and salty notes. Fat also helps desserts like this stabilize and produce the texture everyone expects.
If a client insists on low fat, go instead with a dessert that is naturally simple and low in fat: angel food cake or fresh berries served with a dollop of whipped cream are excellent choices. Meringues also are naturally low in fat.