Get Cooking: The essential, delicious fat – The Denver Post

For however much we (claim to) shun it, we appreciate fat in our cooking and eating ever too much to abandon it completely. Nor, really, should we. The reasons alone are delectable.

First, there are fat’s flavors, some of which — olive, sesame, peanut, avocado, to name a few — are crucial to the cooking in which they factor. Too, fat carries other flavors onto the palate, as a sort of gustatory Slip ‘N Slide for all those tastes that you’ve either added to any recipe or created by heating them together.

Second, fat’s texture is seductive, all smooth smoosh, chin-dripping and lip-slithering. The texture of one fat in particular, cocoa butter, is even electric. Unique among fats, cocoa butter’s phase change from solid to liquid occurs at 93 degrees Fahrenheit, a few degrees below human body temperature.

When you chomp a bite of chocolate, its cocoa butter liquifies instantly and absorbs heat from your mouth. Hence, as it melts, it cools. Underneath all of chocolate’s great flavor, a bite of it also refreshes.

Third, fat bequeaths a sense of fullness and satiety, both to mouthfuls of food in which it appears, but more importantly, to the belly and body in which it ends up. And because its digestion is very complex and time-consuming, fat delays feelings of hunger and craving. In truth, fat stores twice as much energy as carbohydrate and it tells your body so.

But to my mind, the mind of a cook, the most important reason to love fat (especially “cooking oil,” its everyday euphemism) is its tolerance for heat, the way in fact that it transfers or conducts heat. Without fat, an enormous range of cooking simply would not develop the flavors and aromas that it can and does.

Because water (and watery cooking mediums such as broths or other liquids) vaporizes at temperatures as low as 202 degrees (at Denver’s elevation, even lower when you are higher up in the hills), they cook foods, yes, but do not add flavors to food the way that using fat as a cooking medium does.

Browning, sautéing or frying — and, in many instances, broiling and baking or roasting — start their flavor-making at temperatures well above water’s fragile frontier. Beginning at 250 degrees, but really kicking in just above 300, a layer of fat conducts heat to food (especially proteins) in such a way to caramelize certain sugars or carbohydrates, volatilize various molecules, color brown certain polymers, break down assorted amino acid chains and make flavors and aromas of them all.

Cumulatively, these are called the Maillard Effect (or Maillard Reaction), after its French discoverer. Still only partially understood or catalogued, a “Maillard-ization” of a foodstuff causes (no hyperbole here) hundreds of reactions in even a single piece.

Water can never do that. Fat forever.

Today’s recipe relies on various fats for its varied deliciousness. The ample olive oil in the marinade will carry itself through the tenderizing portion of the recipe onto the heating and cooking portion. Much if not nearly all of the “beefiness” of the meat is in its fat, however lean. And in the gribiche sauce, the yolk of the egg (a delicious fat-filled food element if ever there was one) functions in its mayonnaise-making forte, as does the olive oil added to it.

And should you sauté down some vegetables on which to lay the finished meat, the cooking oil that you employ will carry to your palate many of the vegetables’ flavors along with its own.

Pan-seared Flap Steak with Gribiche Sauce

Makes 4 servings


For the marinade:

  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (or tart cherry juice)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bunch green onions (scallions), trimmed at the root and with 3 inches of dark green cut away, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
  • 2 navel or blood oranges, or 1 sour orange, juiced, and their peels, cut up
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 pound beef flap (sometimes called belly) meat such as flank or skirt
  • Olive oil and salt and pepper

For the gribiche sauce:

  • 1 large egg, hard-cooked, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sherry or white wine vinegar
  • 1 small sour pickle or cornichon
  • 10 capers, salted or in brine or vinegar, well rinsed and squeezed of their rinse
  • 1/4-1/2 cup lightly packed fresh green herbs such as flat-leaf parsley, summer savory, tarragon or a mixture, very finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a bowl, mix together the ingredients for the marinade. Place the meat in a large plastic zippered bag and toss in the marinade, sloshing it around the meat. Seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight, turning the bag once or twice. (When ready to cook the meat, remove the bag from the refrigerator and allow the meat, still marinating, to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.)

Prepare the gribiche sauce. Remove the egg’s yolk halves to a small bowl, add the mustard and smoosh them together well with the back of a fork, making a paste. Drizzle in the olive oil, stirring well, making an emulsion. Add the vinegar. Chop the egg white, the pickle and the capers (if the capers are large) until minced. Add them to the sauce, along with the green herbs. Mix the sauce together well. Adjust for salt and pepper and set aside at room temperature.

To cook the steak: Coat the surface of a cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet or grill pan with a thin layer of cooking oil and place it over high heat. Drain the meat of its marinade and lightly pat it dry with paper toweling. Sear and cook the steak for 2-3 minutes on each side (no longer, perhaps as little as 90 seconds, depending on the thickness of the meat; you want a char on the exterior, but a thin line of pink or red down the center).

Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing it against the grain, into “fingers” that you will lay atop an arrangement of cooked vegetables such as tomatoes and onions, with the gribiche sauce to the side.

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