Dry, brittle, cold, and hard: My vata spirit craves lubrication, grease, oil, and fat. It is, far and away, my favorite food group. It occupies my food daydreams, and it's present in abundance at every meal I eat. Thankfully, as a culture we're moving away from the low-fat and high-sugar, chemical-laden diets of yesteryear. Because not only does fat taste great, it transforms ingredients into their best iterations of themselves. Now, to be clear: I'm not talking about a ketogenic diet. I don't do that. I love eating carbohydrates and vegetables and grains and greens and all of the things. And I also really like eating fat. Here's a breakdown of the most common fats you'll find in my kitchen — and how I use them.
I don't bother with olive oil that isn't extra-virgin (often labeled "pure" or "light"). While those varieties have a higher smoke point than EVOO, I prefer to cook with other fats — more on that in a minute. I use olive oil exclusively as a finisher, and never heat it. For that reason, I seek out high-quality bottles that hail from a single origin (many cheap, big-name olive oils are blends of olives from different countries). My favorite ways to use EVOO: In vinaigrettes, condiments, and raw sauces, and drizzled over savory yogurt.
This is my oil of choice for searing and cooking on the stove-top. I prefer not to use it if I'm roasting a big batch of veggies to be eaten later, because the oil is solid at fridge/room temperature, and forms an unappetizing congealed texture on the exterior of the veg. But it's perfect, I've found, for skillet breakfast hash, seared fish, and getting an initial hit of color on roasted chicken.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Essentially, I pour this down my throat by the bottle. JK. But also not. The toasted variety has a richer color and flavor than untoasted, but it's not fit for high temperatures — save it for drizzling. I use it most often in vinaigrettes with miso, ginger, and honey. It's also insanely good on yogurt, drizzled over rice, and adding a certain ~something~ to marinades. I like Kadoya brand sesame oil (and my former employer does, too!).
Rendered Animal Fat
My days as a farm cook taught me the value in reserving animal fat. Bacon grease is an obvious one (because #bacon), but I also hoard chicken fat (schmaltz), and beef fat. The keys for getting the most bang for your buck when rendering out fat are to have patience and to cook gently. Throwing bacon in a screaming-hot pan will cook it before the fat has a chance to melt away from the meat. Starting fatty meats in a cold pan and cooking them over low/restrained heat will yield the most abundant results. Save your hard work by pouring liquid fat through a sieve into a heat-safe container (like a mason jar) and letting it cool. The sieve will catch any nasty bits, which you can then discard. I love veggies roasted in chicken fat, and bacon grease makes the best fried bread. Fried bread > dry toast, in case you hadn't heard.
Yes, this is technically rendered animal fat. But I place lard in a category all its own. Some may even call it a pedestal. Lard is pork fat that has been rendered and clarified — the water content has been evaporated out of it. It's creamy and delicious, and has a high smoke point, which makes it ideal for searing, roasting, and even frying (hellooo, crispy potatoes). There are two types of lard you'll encounter: Leaf lard and fatback. Leaf lard is made from the internal fat, around the pig's kidneys. This has a mild (read: not porky) flavor, and makes superior pie crusts. Fatback is from — you guessed it — the pig's external fat, and has a more obviously "barnyard" flavor. Most commercially-available lard will be leaf lard, but if you're buying from a local farmer, do ask — they'll likely be happy to talk to you about their process and what you're getting.
For baking, obviously, but also for slathering. I use salted butter exclusively, even though most baking recipes call for unsalted (this is so you can control the amount). I find that most salted butters have a richer, better flavor — so I just leave out any additional salt called for in a baked goods recipe. Buy the good stuff if you can (better yet; make it!), and leave it at room temperature: There's no tragedy greater than a block of hard butter smashed into a piece of bread and that's for real. Butter is also dynamite when used to baste a steak in the last few seconds of its cook time. A helpful note of interest: Butter that's made from cows fed a diet of fresh grass will be brighter and deeper yellow in color. Grain-fed butter, as well as wintertime butter from grass-fed cows fed hay, will be paler.