Monday, 9 June 2008

How not to eat

I have an awful lot of cookery books, though most days I cook without using any of them, as I daresay we all do. Often, I use them for ideas, though I do follow recipes sometimes. What always gets me, though, is the vast amount of fat used in cooking, which is often quite unnecessary. I always have automatically deducted at least half of the butter or oil used - not in baking of course, but in other dishes. Many dishes start by frying onions in olive oil - but you only need a few drops, so why do they so often specify several tablespoons?

When I started this diet, I resigned myself to a life without risotto. I'm very fond of risotto, particularly if I've cooked it myself. It should have just the right amount of sloppiness, tenderness, bite, before we even start on the flavour, and few restaurants get it exactly right for me. But almost every recipe starts with lots of butter, then adds more at the end, and a whole pile of Parmesan is stirred in too.

Then I thought about it, and realised that the rice itself becomes creamy as it cooks, and maybe the butter isn't that necessary. And it's true. If cheese is important for the flavour, add some of that (probably half what the recipe says) but the fat can be quartered or even almost eliminated and no one even notices.

Nigella, in H0w t0 C00k gives a recipe for 'Restrained Mushroom Risotto', where she says 'a low-fat risotto might sound slightly suspect', as if she's trying to put you off taking care about the amount of fat in your diet. Indeed, her pea risotto gives 60g of butter, a drop of oil, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan, more for the table...for 2 servings. Never mind if you are watching your weight or not, that's artery-clogging. It's a delicious risotto - I've been making it for years with the butter quartered and the cheese halved - but you might as well open your mouth and shovel in lard and have done with it. Hiding all that butter, for it is completely absorbed by the rice, isn't fair on the person you're cooking for and it's an unhealthy way to eat whether you're overweight or not.

When you see television chefs cook, it makes you cautious about what you order when you eat out. They shove in great dollops of butter, pour the oil and cream with a casual hand, add drifts of sugar and handfuls of salt. At home, I tend to use a spoon. It's easy to let your hand slip and pour in far more than you mean to. And if you've put in the salt at the start and later decide you need a stock cube, that's absolutely loaded with salt. I usually use Mar1g0ld Vegetable Bouillon granules, but even the low salt version is far saltier than other bought dried stock, although the flavour is good.

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