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Food Detective: In defense of fat

Luxurious Kobe beef is marbled with fat. (Courtesy David Hammond)

Luxurious Kobe beef is marbled with fat. (Courtesy David Hammond)

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Updated: November 2, 2011 3:11AM

Visualize, if you will, the prototypical American dinner. There's beef there, right? And it's probably front and center on the plate.

We red-blooded Americans eat more beef per capita than any other people - as much as five times more beef than Mexicans and 10 times more than Canadians.

Earlier this year at Sixteen in the Trump Tower, chef Frank Brunacci served me some superbly tender and tasty Kobe beef.

Graded A1 through A12, Kobe is Japanese beef considered by many to be the finest in the world. Like the beef grading system in the United States, Kobe's grades (and prices) go up with increased marbling, the matrix of lacy fat that flows through muscle meat.

In an effort to offer carnivores a unique beef-eating experience, the Chicago steakhouse Gibsons has secured its own USDA Prime certification for the beef it serves. Gibsons' Black Angus cattle are raised in the upper Midwest and finished on corn for 120 days. There's a lot to be said for grass-fed beef - I'm a fan of Bill Kurtis' Tallgrass beef - but there's nothing like corn to fatten a steer.

Fat is what many of the best beef grades have in common because fat contributes mightily to tenderness as well as taste.

Recently at Gibsons, I munched on a W.R. steak (named after Chicago food writer and steak enthusiast, William Rice).

"How's the meat?" asked our waiter, stopping by our table.

"I'm not quite sure," I said. "All I've eaten so far is fat. [Pause.] It's incredible."

And the fat was delicious. Just off the heat, the steak was exquisitely lush. The fat, pure white underneath a light crisp char, was almost fluffy, borderline sweet, with a mouth-filling, buttery creaminess.

Americans can be downright phobic about fat, but when you invest in a steak from one of Chicago's many shrines to red meat, consider savoring the fat. Though it may present some textural challenges to eaters, it's worth the effort to get over those inhibitions.

I'm not saying you have to load up on lipids in the style of Mrs. Sprat, but if flavor is important to you, give fat a chance.

And if you're concerned about the calories and cholesterol in even the most scrumptious fat - and admittedly many of us should be - the solution is simple: Skip dessert.

David Hammond is an Oak Park writer, Chicago Public Radio contributor and founder/moderator of culinary chat site E-mail

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