Lose the Fat
Excess fat can easily ruin a dish, so it’s good to have a reliable technique for separating it from other liquids—a surprisingly tricky task. After struggling with various methods, Marie Louise Griffin, of Playa del Rey, California, asked for advice.
During cooking, heat melts the fat in ingredients such as meats. Particularly in recipes that involve other liquids, such as broth or water, that melted fat pools on top and typically needs to be removed before the dish is served. As fat cools, it tends to resolidify. Because of this, one of the most effective and easiest ways to remove the fat is to chill the entire mixture until the fat hardens and can be scraped off and discarded. But cooling the entire pot can take hours. Looking for a more efficient solution, we tested several methods, including skimmers and ladles (to spoon off the fat), paper towels (to blot it), basters (to siphon the liquid away from the fat) and fat separator devices. The results depended somewhat on the type of recipe. Paper towels performed poorly in almost every case. Basters worked well but are practical only with small volumes (the baster is used to siphon the liquid out from under the fat). Fat separators (which work by allowing the liquid to be poured off from beneath the fat) worked best, but they require that the liquid first be strained of any solids. This is fine for broths and stocks, which typically would be strained before use anyway. But straining can be cumbersome with soups and stews. For those, as well as low-liquid braises or any recipe where straining the liquid is not practical, we prefer to use a shallow ladle or serving spoon to carefully skim off the fat from the surface. To make this even easier and more effective, we gently tip the pot to one side so the fat pools, creating a deeper reservoir from which to skim.