I never thought tools like fat separators even exist, let alone how to use a fat separator, until one day I saw a colleague using it. She was making her signature roux and had set an enormous pot of stock to be defatted. To my surprise, she was done with all the stock in just 20 minutes.
I was mind-blown by her efficiency when she introduced me to this fantastic fat separating tool. Knowing about it, I instantly got one for myself too. Since then, defatting stocks has never been difficult for me. In fact, I love doing it! Such items make cooking less hectic and more fun.
What Is a Fat Separator
A fat separator is a cooking gadget used to separate fat from the meat juices. The defatted stock can then be used for making some yummy gravies and roux. Meat stocks are a key ingredient to many delicious recipes. They are full of flavour and add a nice meaty taste to the sauce. Many chefs have their own recipes. I use the conventional method to make my meat stock.
I let my meat cook for a long time in water. For adding different flavours, I add different vegetables or spices. I prefer using meat with bones layered in fat. Greater the gravy fat content; tastier is the stock. However, too much fat can make dishes greasy and this is why I use the fat separators to de-fat my stock.
How Does a Fat Separator De-Fat Stock
A fat separator is essentially a measuring cup with a long pouring spout. Most of them come with a strainer lid that aids in separating broth from meat. The lid ensures that only broth enters the pitcher. There is no rocket science involved in defatting of the stock. It uses the simple formula of gravity.
Fat is less dense than water; hence it floats while all the broth settles down. Within a few minutes, all of the fat and broth have separated. The pitcher is designed in such a way that the spout is always lower than the fat layer. You can then tilt the fat separator to pour out the broth while the fat remains inside the pitcher.
After taking out the broth, take out the fat from the pitcher and continue with the rest of the stock. The spout has a tightly fixed rubber stopper in it. This aids in keeping the stock out of the spout until the fat has separated and the broth is ready to be poured out.
How to Use a Fat Separator
- Strain out any large solid chunks of meat, bone or vegetable from the stock.
- Make sure that the stopper is tightly fit inside the spout.
- Now, place the strainer over the pitcher.
- Slowly pour the stock into the fat separator. Make sure that the stock is strained well.
- Leave the stock on the counter for a span of 15-20 minutes or until you see all the fat floating on top. More settling time ensures better fat separation.
- After all the broth has settled down, carefully remove the stopper from the spout.
- Carefully, pour out all of the defatted broth into a new container.
- As the broth leaves the pitcher, you will notice the fat being left behind. Now the choice is yours. You can either throw the fat away or make a roux.
Tip: For better straining, line the strainer with a filter paper. This ensures that no particles other than broth and fat enter the fat separator.
Old Traditional Ways to Separate Fat From Stock
Fat separators have not always been there to make things easy. Traditional methods were very tiring and required a lot of attention to detail. In order to appreciate this culinary tool more, let’s have a look at some of the old traditional ways of fat separation. All work with the basic principles of gravity and densities. Fat being less dense always rises up.
Freezing the Broth
This is one of the most common ways to separate fat from the stock. All you need to do is strain your stock thoroughly and place it in the freezer for 15 minutes. Cooling the broth causes the fat to harden. The solidified fat forms a layer on the top of the stock, which can then be pried and removed carefully.
Before the introduction of a fat separator, this used to be my favourite method for defatting the stock. This was an excellent method, but only when I had to work with small volumes of stock. As the quantity of stock increases, it becomes difficult to remove the solidified fat. The pieces are large and so, often break while removing them.
Moreover, putting the broth in the freezer causes it to cool. Cold broths are of no good and hence I had to reheat the whole batch again. Being a culinary chef, my freezer is always filled. Therefore, making a place for big containers full of broth in the freezer was another task.
Heavy-Duty Ziploc Bag
This is another traditional method that is very similar to the previous one. Pour the cooled down stock into a zip-lock bag and wait for a few minutes. After you see that all the fat has risen to the top, snip a small hole at one corner of the bag and pour out all the gravy. You will need to completely focus while using this method.
While I was on it, I was quite vigilant that I only poured the de-fatted stock. A small negligence can cause you to repeat the whole process. I remember how I had to re-do this several times to make sure my stock is defatted properly. This is, for sure, a very attention requiring method. Besides, it is only suitable for very small volumes of stock.
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This is an effective yet a very exhausting method. Wait for your stock to cool until you see a fat layer forming on top. Then squeeze the bulb of the baster and suck out all the fat from the stock. For a person like me, who hates doing the dishes, the aftermath of sucking the fat out was pretty bad. The fat would stick to the sides of the baster, and I had to use different brushes to clean it thoroughly.
Aside from this, while sucking, the baster easily took up my stock too. To avoid this, I started to suck the broth from the bottom instead of the fat at the top. This greatly helped me in retaining the maximum volume of my broth. But by the end, my arms would be sore from all of that squeezing and sucking process of the baster.
Ladle and Ice
This is another way that is only effective if you have a really small fat content in your broth. Take a steel ladle and fill it with ice cubes. Now partially submerge it in such a way that only the lower portion of the ladle comes in contact with the stock. The hot stock and cold ladle cause the fat to be solidified and stick to the ladle.
Take out the ladle and remove the layer of fat attached to its lower side. This is not a thorough method and requires a lot of patience. It’s better for you to learn how to use a fat separator and get your hands on one.
What to Look in a Fat Separator
Over these years, I have tried fat separators from some well-known companies. After working with this culinary tool for the past several years, I know what features I want my fat separator to have.
From a distant view, you would find all of these fairly similar. At first glance, even I couldn’t figure out the difference between them. However, with time and knowledge, I realised that each varies in their features.
Fat separators are usually constructed from stainless steel, BPA-free plastic or glass. They have their own pros and cons. Stainless steel fat separator is sturdy and rust-proof. Nevertheless, these pitchers may be a little heavy.
Plastic is pocket friendly and easy to use. However, the cheap plastic build-up can cause chemical leaching. Glass pitchers are easy to clean and provide a complete view of the stock. But, they require care while handling and can heat up very quickly.
Fat separators are available in different sizes that can accommodate different volumes of broth. It would help if you chose such a pitcher that can fit the quantity of stock that you work with more often.
Most, but not all fat separators come with strainers. Make sure that yours has one. Check the strainer too. The holes should be small, so the strainer holds even the smallest pieces of meat. Smaller the holes, better would be the straining.
The fat separator requires careful pouring of the broth out of the pitcher. Hence, the fat separator must have a nice sturdy, slip-resistant handle. The handle should be easy to grip, in order to prevent any injuries. It should be large, so you can tightly cling to it.
While buying, make sure that your fat separator has high heat resistance. Models with low resistance can easily crack if the temperature limit exceeds even slightly. Besides this, it becomes difficult to hold them if they are too hot. This can even result in accidents.
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From the way I look at it, a fat separator is a great investment. You will be surprised how flavorful and tender meat is after the fat has been separated. By keeping in mind the points above, you will easily be able to distinguish between a good and average fat separator. Knowing how to use a fat separator will also help you buy the best fat separator for yourself, ultimately.