You already know that of my many edible obsessions, fats are among the most prized. Butter in virtually any form is the glistening Sun of my oblations when it brings its sleek graces to the sweet and the savory alike. Meat fats, vegetable-derived fats: yea verily, I can’t imagine how I would find culinary happiness if it weren’t for the kind kisses of olive oil, duck fat, tallow, avocado oil, sweet and mild nut oils, leaf lard, coconut oil, and all of their slick cohort bringing the foods I eat to their most well-rounded state. Barbecue of the highest order doesn’t even exist, in my book, unless I have to scrub like a surgeon after eating it to clean up the goodness that ran up my arms before getting to my mouth. The mere sheen of the translucent butcher paper sticking to the smokehouse table is enough to start a Pavlovian response in me.
The thing is, I’ve learned over a long and avid career as an eater, that it’s not fats, per se, that make me rounder, but which fats I eat, and when, and how much. I am well aware that food is faddish, and you know I’ve posted about such things on many a Tuesday of yore, but I pay better attention to my own body’s definition of what works and what doesn’t than I used to do, and by now I’ve seen that while it’s not very helpful to me in terms of my physical fitness or comfort to indulge as much as I wish in eating like a ruminant or like a three-year-old with a credit card, I can be more generous with my desire for fat. You can cringe if you like; I know it’s not for every body, and Fat has been made a dirty word for generations not only because it’s been considered unhealthy, unseemly or both but because it’s been considered dangerous and therefore ugly on people.
But I’ve known folk who lived long, happy, productive lives without ever being particularly svelte, let alone stick-figure thin like fashion models are wont (and expected) to be. I’ve known of dietary health or fitness fanatics who died young of health-related causes. They aren’t the supposed norm, no, but then most of us aren’t, one way or another. When I get my medical checkups I have consistently high cholesterol levels, enough so the doctor sends me off for sophisticated coronary calcium tests, and I come home with a chart that could just as well have a grade school star sticker or happy face on it to go with its perfect Zero score; it defies not only the odds but logic, yet there it is. My blood pressure remains on the low-moderate side, my heart keeps ticking, and the amount of cholesterol in my pipes seems to be irrelevant to my general health thus far in life.
On the other end of the scale, for me, is the unfortunate truth that two things I adore eating, wheat (breads, cookies, pasta, and the like) and uncultured dairy products (ice cream, ice cream, ice cream, and a few other items), almost instantaneously expand my gut and make me feel logy and uncomfortable. I would love to be that grass-eating goat who can munch on wheat-based goodies endlessly without consequence, or that toddler with a bank account running amok in a forty-flavors ice cream parlor, but I’m learning to face the reality that I’m not one of those for whom that’s a good or even fun choice.
One way I am learning to deal with the profound sense of loss that not indulging those wicked-tasty urges very often, if at all, is of course by simply substituting temptations that I like as well and that like me back a little more kindly. Fats. As my spouse just read to me from a newsmagazine, pretty much anything can be improved with a drizzle of browned butter, and who am I to argue with printed infotainment? I suspect there are few foods that, if listed on two menus with one touting Beurre Noisette as an ingredient and the other not, wouldn’t sucker me right in for the sale with the former version. And don’t even get me started on low-fat and nonfat foods being offered as supposed temptations to my fat-loving palate. If they were low-fat or nonfat in the beginning, say, leafy greens, I’m quite happy to eat them, but I promise you I’ll dive in so much the faster if you cook ’em and offer me a good dollop of butter melted on top.
Inspired by Emeril Lagasse‘s skillet cornbread recipe, I merely added a little seasoning, slightly more fat and Voila! It got even better. See how easily that works?!
Slightly Fatter Skillet Cornbread
Preheat oven to 450°F/232°C (or whatever approximates those temps in your oven), with your well-seasoned cast iron skillet in it.
Combine dry ingredients with a fork or whisk in a large measuring pitcher (I like my 64 oz pitcher, because it makes ingredient transfers so easy) or bowl: 3 cups cornmeal, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. In a separate measuring pitcher or bowl, beat together the wet ingredients: 3 cups buttermilk (or my on-hand substitute of 1 cup heavy cream, 2-3 T lemon juice, and enough whole milk to bring the total to 3 cups—which combination I think I might like even better than the buttermilk), 3 large eggs, and 2/3 cup of melted [salted] butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until mixed.
When the oven’s temp is right, pull out the skillet, melt 2 T bacon fat in it and tip the pan to coat it thoroughly. Pour in the cornbread mixture, pop the skillet back in the oven, and bake until a rich, russety golden brown, somewhere around 30 minutes. In a household of two, I find it’s useful to cut the cornbread into 12 wedges, and as soon as it’s cool enough to handle, package two at a time in bags or parchment wraps and seal them in a big zipper bag in the freezer, where the residual steam will help keep them moist and manageable for thawing for later meals.
But I do keep a couple of pieces handy for the day’s lunch or dinner straight from the oven, preferably slathered with yet more [browned] butter and topped, perhaps, with some sweet honey, molasses, jam, fresh fruit…or more butter. Don’t tell anybody. They’ll know when they see the shine on my lips, anyhow.