Fat substitutes have gotten much attention in the food technology community in recent years. Their goal? All the potato chips, ice cream and hollandaise sauce you desire with no calories.
Still, several obstacles face the food technologists trying to create fake fats. Fat substitutes have to have the flavor, texture and mouth feel of vegetable or animal fats, and have to be able to stand up to high heat in the cooking process.
Food technologists have tried lots of methods and ingredients over the years: formulating fat substitutes from cellulose, oats or egg whites; working with starch or protein to enhance creaminess; and others. They have come up with frozen desserts, pastries and whipped toppings made with lower-calorie fat substitutes, but none were very well-liked or accepted by the public.
Foodservice directors can easily cut back on the fat on their menu without resorting to such trickery. By using an assortment of cooking techniques and flavoring agents, you can cut fat without cutting out the flavor. As a culinary professional, are you up to the challenge of reducing or eliminating the fat and still keeping the flavor and the texture of menu items?
To the rescue: Fat, as a cooking ingredient, is smooth, silky and satisfying. Who doesn’t like the silky luxury of butter, egg yolks, cream and cheeses? On the enjoyment side, fats provide flavor, mouthfeel, color, moisture and general good taste to foods. On the cooking side, fats allow us to grill and fry food without having it stick to cookware; acts as a binding and emulsifying agent for sauces, soups and baked products; provides creamy textures; and thickens liquids and solids.
Unfortunately, on the health side, too much fat outweighs the health benefits which adequate amounts of fat provide. As we have all heard, overindulgence in fats, especially saturated fats, can be a causative agent in many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease and pulmonary disease.
It may not be possible to eliminate all sources of fat, but it is possible to limit them a bit. Remember—one ounce of solid fat (as found in butter, avocados, olives, etc.) has approximately 220 calories, so a little goes a long way.
As a foodservice director, you have to be ready to explain your use of small amounts of butter in any foods you might label “healthy” or healthful. Remind your customers that for years, margarine was thought to be healthier than animal fat. What’s now coming to light is that the bonds formulated in margarine may cause just as much heart disease as the natural bonds in butter. These trans fatty acids, formed when naturally unsaturated fat is mechanically saturated, may do as much harm, if not more, than animal fats, which are naturally saturated.
Fat does indeed add magic to foods, but with a little informed sorcery (and saucery) menu items could appear sinful and creamy without all the fat.
Consider the following guidelines:
When selecting meats, choose USDA Choice grade. Choice is good for the waistline and the bottom line, as it is less expensive and has less marbling than the higher grades.
Be sure to trim external fat and use low-fat cooking methods. In addition to beef, pork and veal have lean cuts that can be utilized on the menu. The saturated fat in most poultry is concentrated in the skin. Contrary to popular belief, the skin can be left on during cooking and removed before serving. This will allow for maximum flavor, juiciness, tenderness and color with a minimum of fat.
Seafood is always a “go” when getting rid of fat. Grill, bake, steam, poach, stew or barbecue fish fillets, strips or steaks; add cooked shrimp to green or pasta salads to create a new, low-fat entrée.
You don’t have to say good-bye to dairy products when reducing fat; just adjust your inventory. Non- and low-fat yogurt can be used instead of sour cream or heavy cream in some recipes. Canned, evaporated skimmed milk can be used to replace cream in soups and sauces. Some cheeses are available naturally in lower-fat forms, such as part-skim mozzarella or neuchafetel (a low-fat form of cream cheese) and others are available in non-fat versions.
Vegetables and starches can be used as the “creamy” factor in some dishes. Carrots, root vegetables (such as beets, winter squash, turnips) and potatoes can be cooked until soft and pureed to create soups and sauces that appear and taste buttery and creamy. For example, carrots and potatoes cooked together and pureed with fresh or dried thyme, onion powder and white pepper makes a thick, sunburst-colored soup, which tastes full of cream (but isn’t). Pureed potatoes (mashed potatoes thinned with nonfat milk) can be seasoned with garlic and rosemary to create both a “cream” of potato soup or a “creamy” garlic sauce for vegetables.
Pureed vegetables make colorful, fat-free sauces. Puree green, yellow and red peppers and create a tri-colored base for chicken and fish. Spinach can be pureed, mixed with low fat milk and seasoned with pepper and nutmeg or mixed with garlic and onions to be used as a sauce for fish or poultry or as a base for “creamy” spinach soup.
A roux, the chef’s thickener, is traditionally made with equal parts of butter and flour. In place of roux, use pureed cooked beans, pureed cooked vegetables, rice or potatoes. Allow enough cooking time to have thickening occur and to incorporate flavors. (By the way, pureeing is a method that gives the allusion of creaminess. Puree some of a vegetable or bean soup and add back to the remaining soup; it will appear that you have cooked with cream or butter.)
The culinary rule is that if you take something out, you have to replace it. So, if you take out the fat, think about what you will put back.
If you are using stocks or broths instead of fat, be sure they are flavorful. You can reduce them (allow them to cook over low heat to evaporate some of the water and concentrate the flavors) to intensify the flavor. Lemon or lime juice, white or black pepper or wines heighten flavor without fat.
Fresh and dried herbs have no calories or fat and enhance the taste and color of menu items. Paprika, cumin, red pepper flakes add color, as do curry powders and turmeric (the “yellow” in mustard).
Desserts are a special part of the meal. If you don’t have the time to create special low-fat treats, think convenience items. Frozen, ready-to-use angel food cake can be thawed and served over a pool of fresh pureed strawberries or sliced fresh fruit. Graham crackers can be layered with canned or fresh sliced fruit and frozen yogurt or sorbet to create a dessert “club sandwich.”
Frozen ice milk or sherbet can be made into a low fat sundae, topped with frozen or canned fruit, dessert syrups, chopped raisins and vanilla wafers. Pudding mixes can be made with low-fat milk, combined with a low-fat whipped topping for a fast “mousse;” serve this with sliced bananas and canned mandarin oranges.
If you have time, create a fruit tart with a graham cracker crust, low-fat pudding and canned or frozen fruit. Bake apples or pears with cinnamon and ginger and serve with low-fat ice cream or yogurt. Canned pumpkin can be mixed with egg whites, evaporated canned skimmed milk, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon zest and baked in a pie shell or as custard.