You can learn to cut out the fat but keep up the flavor

March 15, 1992|By Joe Crea | Joe Crea,Orange County Register

You'll explode if you hear it again. Cut calories, cut fat, aaarrrgggh!

But you've got to. So how do you do it without cutting out flavor, satisfaction and fun from what you eat?

Four of the nation's foremost culinary voices tackled that challenge: Williams-Sonoma stores founder Chuck Williams, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Evelyn Tribole, cookbook author Deborah Madison and New York restaurant critic Arthur Schwartz.

Only one ground rule: Try not to tell us things we already know. Yes, we promise to strip the skin from our chicken and cut back on rich desserts. But give us a few new ideas for trimming the nasties, a few ways to brighten and freshen meals so taste

remains paramount.

And try to keep it positive, wouldja?

They did.

*

Deborah Madison finds herself immersed in calories, she says. As one of two chefs at Cafe Escalera in Santa Fe, N.M. -- and, at the moment, making all the pastries -- "I'm really steeped.

"I don't have the burden of being attracted to fatty meats or lots of pastry, since I spend all day cooking," she says. "But I love the flavor of butter, the taste of cream and good cheese, and have no desire to replace them with margarine or fat substitutes."

Instead of doing away with those foods, or fiddling with %o traditional pastry recipes to make them less fatty, Ms. Madison says, "I just eat these foods far less often than I used to -- and I've started using lighter foods that I genuinely like, such as ricotta and yogurt cheese."

And she provides extra-small portions of rich indulgences while upping the appearance of bounty by pairing them with healthful accompaniments.

For instance, she says, "When I do want to eat or serve a rich, creamy dessert such as a honey mousse, I try to pair it with a complementary fruit, such as fresh figs or caramelized pineapple, serving just a spoonful of the mousse rather than a dishful.

"That makes a good dessert, and it makes more sense," she says.

Finally, Ms. Madison repeats a point she eloquently expresses in "The Savory Way" -- the importance of choosing the best produce possible. It can make the difference between indifferent and delicious food.

It may be a cliche, she admits, but it's a factor she believes clearly demands consideration.

"Flavorless, lifeless ingredients beg for elaborate flavorings and preparations in order to make them interesting -- and these usually involve fat," she says.

"Much of our problem with fat comes from the fact that so much of our food has so little taste," Ms. Madison says. Fat and sugar provide a kind of substitute for real flavor, she adds.

"When the food is well-tended in all phases of its life in the garden, little has to be done to it in the kitchen -- whether it's a peach, a beet or a head of lettuce. A really delicious piece of fruit is sublime and stands on its own, but inferior, tasteless fruit needs that buttery cobbler dough and sweetened whipped cream to make it taste like something."

For her, the smartest way around that problem is seeking exceptionally good, impeccably fresh produce and other ingredients.

"And forget the rest -- except once in a while," she adds with a laugh.

*

Arthur Schwartz, restaurant critic for the New York Daily News and author of "What To Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House To Eat," says he's "almost always cutting fat from recipes -- unless they've already stripped all the fat out of it."

Because he dines in one of the culinary capitals of the world, calories are his endless bane, Mr. Schwartz says.

"It seems like I'm eating out almost every day," he says. "One of the only saving graces is that I'm not a big dessert eater, so I can say rather cavalierly 'Eat fruit for dessert.' Unfortunately, I'd rather have mashed potatoes with cream and butter first. Then I have the fruit for dessert."

When he cooks at home, Mr. Schwartz has tricks for reducing the amount of fat in his recipes, or at least how to modify the kinds and amounts.

"If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of butter, of course you can substitute oil for part of the butter. That way, you get some of the flavor of the butter but eliminate the cholesterol," Mr. Schwartz says. (Remember, he adds: You're still getting the fat calories.)

Along those lines . . .

* Mr. Schwartz keeps in his refrigerator what pioneer health-food advocate Gaylord Hauser used to call sun butter. He beats together, in 50-50 proportions, softened butter and some oil that's high in polyunsaturates (canola, sunflower, safflower).

* Make soups. "We all know we should be eating more plant [-based] foods," Mr. Schwartz says. "I can make a huge pot of soup with only two tablespoons of oil and hardly any meat. It's really filling. And it leaves you just enough space, caloriewise, to drizzle on a little extra-virgin olive oil to flavor it at the end."

* Cut down on red meat -- and Mr. Schwartz swears this doesn't mean other forms of animal protein. "Even eating in restaurants, if I can keep to eating fish all week, I can drop a couple of pounds."

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