“Indulgence” Fats in a Nourishing Diet

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I dislike labeling any food “good” or “bad,” but the terms do come in handy sometimes, especially when it comes to fats. Olive oil and avocados, which are full of monounsaturated fat, for instance. GOOD. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and flaxseeds. REALLY GOOD. Trans-fats. REALLY, REALLY BAD. But what about butter and bacon and cream? Are they all that bad?

That’s where I dispense with the “good” and “bad” labels and bring out a new one: Indulgence.

indulgence-healthy-fatsLet’s get one thing straight up-front. Our bodies need monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like those I mentioned above (olive oil, avocados, salmon, flaxseed, etc.). They play several essential roles like storing energy and regulating cell function, and also have a positive impact on blood lipid levels (they lower overall cholesterol and LDL while raising HDL). So these types of fats aren’t luxuries; they’re a necessary staple of a nourishing plate.

Saturated fat, on the other hand, is a luxury (and it raises LDL)—your body already makes all it needs. So there’s no need to look for ways to add saturated fat to your daily diet. But … saturated fats, which come primarily from meat and dairy, are the creamy, silky, buttery, melt-in your mouth fats that can pack a lot of pleasure into just a few calories, which can come in quite handy if your meals are heavy on veggies. Not every meal. Not every day. But every once in a while.

Which is why I call them “Indulgence Fats.” Here are a few ways to use them:

  • Butter – Butter is renowned for adding richness to a dish. Swirl in a tablespoon or so (off the heat) at the end of a sauté to give it body and depth. Or brown the butter slightly before sautéing your veggies, like we did with these Sauteed Radishes with Mint, for an even more complex flavor.
  • Cream – Cream brings a lush silkiness to foods. Whisk a tablespoon or two into a pasta sauce, like our Brussels Sprouts Carbonara, or dribble some into a pan sauce for a creamy texture.
  • Duck Fat – This may sound wacky, but duck fat is a terrific indulgence fat. Make our Revelationary Duck Confit, save the fat in a jar in the fridge and use it in place of oil to add ridiculous richness to things like mushrooms, onions and potatoes. One tablespoon (enough, quite frankly, to sauté mushrooms for four people) has just 4 grams of saturated fat, which is half the amount of butter.
  • Bacon – People tend to demonize bacon, which is too bad. One slice has just 40 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat, and it can add a LOT of flavor to a dish (it is high in sodium though, which is another thing entirely). Try these Clams with Bacon and Garlicky Spinach and you’ll see what I mean. I recommend chopping the raw bacon up and sautéing it with onion or garlic so the flavor permeates the ‘base’ of the dish. Then drain off all but a teaspoon or so of the fat and go on with your sauté.

Is this a green light to sit down and eat a package of bacon fried in butter for dinner tonight? Um, no. But you already know that. This is more about letting go of the paradigm that Indulgence Fats are “bad” and using them (occasionally) to enhance the wholesome foods you want to be eating more of.


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Chicken and Mushroom Saute with Marsala Cream Sauce

This sauce is more silk than velvet, which works beautifully with any type of mushroom, from cremini to morels.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (1/2 a breast), cut into 1-inch cubes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 pound mushrooms (your choice!), sliced
3 thyme sprigs
1/4 cup dry Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a large saute pan, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chicken to pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl (make sure to get all the garlic out or it will burn in the next stage).

Return pan to heat and warm the rest of the olive oil (4 teaspoons). Add shallots, mushrooms, thyme sprigs and another sprinkle of salt and pepper and toss to coat with oil. Cook for 10-12 minutes, turning often, until mushrooms are soft and slightly gilded.

Pour Marsala into pan and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Let cook for 2 minutes or so, until all the liquid has burned off. Add chicken and garlic back to the pan. Pour in chicken stock and bring to a boil for 3 minutes to thicken a bit. Pour in cream and give everything a stir. Bring to a gentle boil for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce has thickened enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon.

Remove thyme sprigs and serve.