"Comparison of Animal Fats for Use in Cooking" by Magister Galefridus Peregrinus, OP.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Comparison of Animal Fats for Use in Cooking
by Magister Galefridus Peregrinus, OP
I want to start by acknowledging and thanking His Grace Cariadoc of the Bow for suggesting this project.
Animal fats commonly used in cooking in the medieval Mediterranean world include clarified butter and rendered body fat from several animals. Some of these fats can be difficult to obtain, while others may not be usable because of dietary restrictions. It then becomes necessary for the cook to substitute a fat that is as close as possible to the one called for. The most important considerations are flavor, texture at several temperatures, and smoke point. I have so far examined two clarified butters (cow ghee and goat ghee) and six body fats (chicken fat, duck fat, beef tallow, lard, lamb kidney fat, and lamb tail fat. With the possible exception of duck fat (I have found nothing at this writing, but I am still looking), all of these fats can be found in recipes from the medieval Mediterranean world. These fats all have distinct flavors that they impart to whatever is cooked with them. Of all of them, lamb tail fat is the most difficult to obtain, as fat-tailed sheep are rare in the United States. I will also note that the vast majority of recipes using tail fat call for it raw, not rendered.
With the exception of the cow ghee, I rendered each of these fats myself, starting from fresh butter or raw fat tissue. I performed the rendering using a small iron pan at medium low heat. I cut the raw fat into small pieces and added about a tablespoon of water to prevent burning during the initial heating. Rendering is complete when all the water (both added and in the fat tissue) has been driven off. I then strained the melted fat to remove the residual solids. After rendering, I determined the smoke point by heating the fats until smoke just began to rise from surface while monitoring temperature.
In performing this investigation, I was looking for possible substitutes for two fats in particular: 1) lamb tail fat, because it is difficult to obtain; 2) lard, which I (and others) cannot eat because of religious dietary restrictions. Regarding lard, my observations of physical characteristics and aroma lead me to believe that duck fat might be the best effective substitute. Beef fat has similar physical characteristics, but the smell (and therefore very likely the flavor) is quite different. Regarding lamb tail fat, nothing seems to come close. Chicken fat is somewhat close in physical characteristics, but very definitely not in flavor. Lamb kidney fat has a similar flavor, but the physical differences (particularly at room temperature) are extremely different.
In the future, I hope to analyze more animal fats (goose fat, especially), then testing the performance of these fats in various recipes. I will also be examining the vegetable fats and oils that were commonly used in medieval Mediterranean cookery.
Lamb kidney fat near end of rendering
Analysis of Fats
Refrigerator temperature (36°-39°):
Clarified cow butter: Firm, yielded to firm finger pressure.
Clarified goat butter: Firm, yielded to firm finger pressure.
Chicken fat: Firm, yielded to firm finger pressure.
Duck fat: Soft; yielded to gentle to moderate finger pressure.
Beef tallow: Hard; unyielding to firm finger pressure.
Lard: Soft; yielded to gentle to moderate finger pressure.
Lamb kidney fat: Hard; unyielding to firm finger pressure.
Lamb tail fat: Firm; yielded to firm finger pressure.
Room temperature (69°-72°):
Clarified butter: Very soft, yielded to touch.
Clarified goat butter: Very soft, yielded to touch.
Chicken fat: Semi-liquid.
Duck fat: Semi-liquid.
Beef tallow: Very soft, yielded to touch.
Lard: Very soft, yielded to touch.
Lamb kidney fat: Very firm; yielding to very firm finger pressure.
Lamb tail fat: Very soft, yielded to touch.
Clarified cow butter: 440°-460°.
Clarified goat butter: 340°-360°.
Chicken fat: 430°-450°.
Duck fat: 380°-400°.
Beef tallow: 370°-390°.
Lamb kidney fat: 425°-445°.
Lamb tail fat: 400°-420°.
Selected Medieval Mediterranean cookbooks and recipes mentioning cooking fats
(see References for key and full bibliographic information)
Platina: II.22, p. 165.
Sent Sovi: Cabbage with beef grease, Appendix I.57, p. 215.
Tallow (unspecified, could be beef fat or lamb kidney fat)
Platina: II.22, p. 165.
Sent Sovi: passim.
Sheep/lamb tail fat:
al-Baghdadi; Perry C., tr. (2005). A Baghdad Cookery Book. Totnes: Prospect Books.
Marin M.; Waines, D., eds. (1993). Kanz al-Fawa’id fi Tanwi‘ al-Mawa’id. Beirut: Franz Steiner.
Platina; Milham, M.E., ed. and tr. (1998). Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health. Tempe, AZ: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.
Santanach, J., ed.; Vogelzang, R.M., tr. (2008). The Book of Sent Sovi: Medieval Recipes from Catalonia. Woodbridge: Tamesis.
Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq; Nasrallah, N., tr. (2007). Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens. Leiden: Brill.
Ibn al-‘Adim; Maḥjūb, Suleima, and al-Khatīb, Duriyya, eds. (1986). al-Wuṣla ila ’l-Ḥabīb fī Waṣf al-Ṭayyibāt wal-Ṭīb. Ḥalab: Jami‘at Ḥalab, Ma‘had al-Turath al-‘Ilmi al-‘Arabi.
Copyright 2016 by Loren D Mendelsohn. 3 Morris Pl, Towaco, NJ 07082. <galefridus at optimum.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.