If you wouldn't mind a bit of carefully observed advice, I really do think you should stick your head into Fat. That's right, don't be shy, cram that big old noggin of yours deep into Fat. Now if you've already gotten yourself Fat, disregard my recommendation because, like me, you clearly know that Fat is where it's at. Fat is awesome.

If you wouldn't mind a bit of carefully observed advice, I really do think you should stick your head into Fat. That's right, don't be shy, cram that big old noggin of yours deep into Fat. Now if you've already gotten yourself Fat, disregard my recommendation because, like me, you clearly know that Fat is where it's at. Fat is awesome.

OK, I could continue in this flip fashion but I won't for fear that it might do a disservice to my unflip topic, which is the best and most interesting book about food I've read in quite a long while.

Written by polymathic author Jennifer McLagan, the book is called Fat: An Appreciation of A Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes; and I am not its only fan. You see, Fat recently won the super prestigious 2009 James Beard award for Best Cookbook of the Year.

What I admire most about this terrific treatise is that it's not just a compendium of enticing recipes. In other words, though there are sumptuous close-up color photos of pleasure-principle ingredients as well as some of McLagan's delicious-looking finished dishes, she takes the cuisine conversation far beyond the kitchen.

So as she extols the overlooked health benefits (that's right!) and savory virtues of animal fat, she also manages to add a pinch of hard science, a dash of modern art and a large handful of cultural anthropology into the mix. That she handles all these subjects in a confident, clear and concise prose style shows she knows a meal is so much more than just something to eat.

This is something I've always believed too, and it's why I liked this book so much. Because as Fat so seamlessly avers, culture, literature, art and science are all baked together in the oven of history and that's what's served every night on dinner plates throughout the world.

In the book's brief introduction, McLagan presents the easiest to understand discussion of dietary lipid chemistry I've ever read. This includes explaining the differences between trans fats and saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. She also addresses how fat got such a bad rap, remarking that, "after more than 30 years of reducing our intake of animal fats, we are not healthier, only heavier."

Then over about 200 information-dense and attention-grabbing pages, the book is entertainingly organized into four deliciously interesting chapters, called "Butter: Worth It"; "Pork Fat: The King"; "Poultry Fat: Versatile & Good For You"; "Beef and Lamb Fats: Overlooked but Tasty."

Each chapter opens with an overture of McLagan's broad topical interests and then concludes with her fabulous recipes. All recipes - which come with great side-dish suggestions and range from simple to cheffy - are preceded by little headnotes that sometimes clarify procedure, lend a personal touch, or both.

Fat Facts

Far from pedantic but packed with information, Fat is like a breezy read through a scholastic-style curriculum, and it proves learning can be fun and delicious

History

Margarine was invented in 1869, when Napoleon III offered a reward for discovering a more stable butter replacement for long naval voyages

Chemistry

Lard has a low level of polyunsaturated fatty acids and a crystalline structure that makes it great for both frying foods (they'll absorb less fat than if fried in oil) and developing flaky pastry

Linguistics

The words "schmaltz" and "schmaltzy" - which refer to rendered animal fats -were Yiddish in common usage, German in origin and took their modern colloquial meanings from '30s jazz musicians who used them to describe sentimental or "fatty" music

Contemporary Art

Political provocateur and international art star Joseph Beuys sculpted with fat because he claimed it saved his life when Tatars wrapped him in it after he crashed his Luftwaffe plane

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