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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
In Defense of Margarine

I can hear the gasps now, you know. A food porn post defending that great evil, that great scourge *margarine*? Wouldn't the Great Julia be rolling in her grave? Have I just gone against the wisdom of Alton?

Yes, probably. They do have points, after all. Butter does taste better, there are things butter can do that margarine can't, such as make abuerre blanc, and the health benefits in terms of fat and cholesterol, other than from a true specialty brand, are negligible at best. So, all things being equal, butter is the better choice, and if you're that worried about health, olive oil is probably a better substitute for most things, plus a tiny bit on a baked potato won't hurt you.

It doesn't help those of us who have other reasons to not want to use butter. Nor does the fact that lard probably makes better pie crusts help much, either - sorry, Pierre and Julia, who once said that if you're not going to use the real thing, you shouldn't bother at all. Because, yes, you guys have made the decision that nothing matters so much as what the food tastes like, you have no drastic food sensitivities (such as the young man I know who is truly allergic to milk, not just lactose intolerant) and you've made no commitment, religious or otherwise, to diets that would limit or eliminate those items. And it's that that bothers me.

Because, see, I took their advice for years - cooking only with olive oil and not doing things that seem to call for butter to avoid using the dreaded margarine. I don't make pies, so the lard thing wasn't a problem for me. And my cooking suffered a bit - olive oil is too heavy for some dishes where plain vegetable oil works better, such as stir-fries or curries, and eggs needed extra spices and tasted wrong, and I still wanted margarine for my baked potatoes and corn on the cob if I ate them with meat meals.

And most of my meals are meat meals because that's the default state of my kitchen, even if they're vegetarian or fish. It's too much trouble to change things over just for dinner (put away the fleishig dishes and utensils and change the dishdrainer and sink rack and then change it back because most of what I cook is dinner and that does tend to be truly fleish.) Perhaps if I had two sinks, I might cook more dairy, but I'm somewhat lactose intolerant, I'd rather not deal with all the dairy fat and there are all the memories of the diet from hell, where for one summer, pretty much all I cooked was dairy because we thought my husband had gout, and eggs, dairy and flounder were pretty much all the protein sources he was permitted. I was dreaming of tofu.

A couple of years ago, though, I went to a kosher steakhouse called Prime Grill (I recommend it to anyone who has access to Manhattan.) and I noticed that the sauce not only tasted good, it felt rich on my tongue. It tasted, in fact, as I'd imagined pan sauces would taste if they were finished with butter and it looked the way the sauces did in the Great Chef series. So, I asked how the chef finished the sauce.

When the server came back, she told me that the chef finished it with margarine. I was completely surprised - I'd thought it was the cream in the butter that thickened the sauces when added at the end. That's what Alton said, after all. I know margarine is fat, but the fat is vegetable oil and that doesn't thicken anything. I filed that away and did nothing with it until recently.

Then I made veal piccata. (Again, kosher veal is free range by necessity.) And when I finished off the wine/lemon pan sauce, I decided to swirl in a bit of margarine. And it did thicken the sauce a bit, and add complexity to the taste. Maybe not the way butter would have, but you know, I wouldn’t know the difference anyway and it worked just fine. More than that - it was yummy.

Last week, in the process of using stuff up before Passover, I made linguine in improvised sauce to go with pan-fried trout and frozen spinach. The sauce was, well - I had a spare Spanish onion and Jonathan was picking up lemons. I diced the onion and saute'd it in, yes, margarine (could have used butter but see "changing the kitchen" - not something I want to do on a Thursday) until the onion was soft, and added some fresh-ground pepper and a little salt. When Jonathan came home, I squeezed in the juice of one of the lemons. When I cooked the trout, I put a sliver of margarine in with the olive oil, and more ground pepper. The sauce was bright and worked well with the trout and the pasta, although I wouldn't use it by itself. And olive oil wouldn't have worked half so well.

I use a good quality pareve margarine, one of the Jewish brands and I don't over use it. And it makes food that tastes *good*. Maybe not great, but nothing I'd be embarrassed about serving company. There are simply times when I want a room temperature solid fat in my cooking, and the people making the pronouncements don't seem to understand that sometimes you *do* have to compromise because you might have other priorities, whether it's religious or because you simply don't want animal products in your diet.

This doesn't mean, btw, that I understand why the kosher dairy diner I went to last night only gave us butter when we specifically asked for it.

So, this is sort of a rant and sort of food porn.



laws, mama, i saw the subject line and thought it said "In Defense of Marriage." and i boggled. (not, you know, that i don't think -- but, just, with that particular phrasing, it would have surprised me coming from you.)


My milk issues means that butter tastes actively bad, so really, I don't want to hear it, you know?

I actually find Fleishman's Unsalted margarine to be better than any of the specifically Jewish pareve margarines I've tried. But then, I grew up on margarine, so I am not offended by it, and I disagree with Alton Brown regularly anyway (the man knows nothing about apples!)

Heh. I grew up on LOTS of things I won't eat now, but then your mother must have been a better cook than mine.

I agree about Fleishman's being better; I really never cared for any of the Jewish brands. Though that was when used as spreads or as a main ingedient; once I baked them into something I couldn't tell the difference much. And it's all a matter of taste.

I admit at one point I gave up margarine due to the trans-fats but hey, that's me. (I eat like heck right now anyway ><)

For a long time I was one of those people who was used to margarine and preferred it, so I'm not about to raise an eyebrow at people using it now.

Does the Unsalted have any taste to it? I almost bought it when the Fleishmann's Light (also Pareve) was out of stock. I don't really even remember what real butter tastes like...but the Light seems to have enough flavour to season a bagel or baked potato.

I only buy unsalted butter and margarine anyway - it tastes fine to me.

When I was a child, my mother used margarine for everything, and I loathed it. I bought the Earth Balance pareve margarine and tried to use it the way I used to use butter for cooking...I forget what it was, though I know that it must have been meat. What I remember about it was that it stank up the house like nobody's business, and it had no taste except the slightly soapy taste of coconut oil.

What margarine would you recommend? Because I haven't run across one which doesn't remind me of the tasteless stuff my mother used.

I do make pies, rather a lot, but the pie crusts I buy, and they are pareve. Not that it matters because the pie is dairy by the time I'm done with it--I usually make peach pies which means butter and brown sugar.

I like Migdal myself, but Fleishmanns Unsalted (in the green box) is good, and so is Mazola, and those are national brands.

Hmmm. I wonder if I could get Migdal, though. Tel Aviv or Mollie Stone's might carry it, and I need to actually get up and go there. I depend too much on the fact that Safeway will bring me whatever I ask them to for $10 delivery charge, which I do consider a bargain when it comes to dealing with canned catfood, sacks of catfood, boxes of litter and canned goods in general, since the cab ride would cost that much.

I do make pies, rather a lot, but the pie crusts I buy, and they are pareve.

Do you get this crust from a Kosher market, or is there a brand of pie crust that is parve? (oh please oh please oh please)

I ask because my husband is a vegan, plus I have several co-workers/friends who keep kosher to the extent that while they don't worry about your dishes, they won't eat pork products or dairy & meat in the same meal.

This means that I've had to roll out a vegitable shortning crust on several occasions and I hate making pie crust from scratch because it's such a PITA.

I believe it was plain old Pet-Ritz, actually, and they were quite clearly marked "Parve".

My local grocery-store-generic(Giant) is pareve. I've seen a lot of different brands of pareve frozen pastry crusts. Shouldn't be too hard to find.

Just remember... in the case of the pie crust it's fine, but pareve doesn't always mean it's okay for vegans, since eggs are considered pareve. (there's no egg in a pie crust...at least no pie crust I've ever seen... so like I said, it wouldn't be an issue if it was just the pie crust.

I actually like margarine more than butter. Butter just tastes wrong.

That's the other thing. I've read a number of food essay books that seem to look down on people because they prefer things like instant coffee or margarine or Cool Whip - especially Americans from Time Before Foodies - the sixties and seventies. "Aren't they silly?" the food writers imply. And, you know, I personally do prefer drip coffee and fresh whipped cream.

But if you grow up on the other stuff, it's going to taste better to you. An example is tomato juice.

The first real success for frozen food (success meaning it outsold the same food fresh) was orange juice. At that point, the choices were either canned OJ or fresh-squeezed. And since people knew what fresh tasted like, they knew the canned tasted vile, but it was far more convenient than getting it directly from the orange. But frozen concentrate - that's nearly as convenient as canned and tastes nearly as good as fresh (squeeze a fresh orange into the pitcher, and it tastes *as* good.) So it sold well. The companies tried to duplicate that with other juices, but failed - most spectacularly with tomato juice. Because to Americans, tomato juice *is* the canned stuff, and fresh (or frozen concentrate) doesn't taste right.

I've been using a soy margarine that I like fairly well. Was raised with Fleischman's, and I'm allergic to milk as well, so margarine is pretty much my way of life.

Our default kitchen is vegetarian, but we use margarine even when we're technically dairy.

Never like watching Julia Child. Found her incredibly offensive, actually.

I'm in the "if it's not butter, don't bother," camp for my own cooking and eating, but of course, I'm not Kosher (or allergic, or vegan). Partly it's a health issue (transfats bad), but mostly I can taste the margerine in virtually everything and I don't like it -- this is also why I end up passing, with thanks, on parve baked goods other than challah or bagels if they're from commercial bakeries. Naturally, home baked with margarine beats the heck out of store bought with butter.

It may also be a temperment thing. I grew up being offered carob because as a kid I was allergic to chocolate and I always felt it was worse than nothing. I don't like Pesach cake made with matzoh. I'd rather have water than diet soda. And I have no problem eating actual vegetables but I can't stand veggie mock meat. I don't deal well with tastes that are almost, but not quite, the one I'm expecting/wanting/going for. That's not Just Fine to me, it's Cruel Tease.

I'm not suggesting you should feel the same, of course, just explaining why someone might feel that way other than snobbery. If I thought of margarine as the default, or even as a separate thing (like olive oil) it might not bother me, but I can't quite manage that.

OTOH, my girlfriend actively prefers margarine to butter (and drinks diet soda by the case).

I think most challah is made with oil, not margarine. At least,all the recipes I've seen is with oil.

I do admit, I like the substitutes. It lets me eat a facsimile of my pre-kosher favorite lunch - veggie soy bacon cheeseburgers. I only do it every few years because of all the salt involved, but it satisfies a craving.

And if it's a matter of personal taste and there are no other issues, it's a matter of personal taste.

I usually use grapeseed oil in my challah, it works really well and lets all the other flavors come through.

*nodsnods* I get that. I dunno how I'd feel if it was the closest I could get ever. And if I had to choose one I'd rather have soy bacon and beef than soy cheese.

My brother and sister in law once served me a meal of all substitutes (soy sausage, egg beaters, margarine, sugar free jam and Lenders bagels). I joked that there was no food in the food. But like you say, personal taste is personal taste. And no one who's as fond of florescent orange mac and cheese as I am has any right to throw stones.

*nodsnodsnods* The oil explains it. I adore challah and have never tasted margarine unless I put it on myself.

Partly it's a health issue (transfats bad)

The only margarine my vegan husband buys is the stuff that's trans-fat free. And when I make a pie crust, I use naturally trans-fat free shortning.

But yes I'm with you on the love of butter. The transfat free margarine is some how made with water, so while it's fine on bread and veggies, it's just not quite the same for cooking. If I'm baking just for me, I'm all about the butter. :)

For the most part, I'm the same way, but if I don't find a way to have shepherd's pie without mixing meat and butter...

This is one problem I don't have. My mashed potatoes are potatoes, water, salt and pepper. Turns out we prefer them that way - you start with small waxy potatoes and boil them in their (scrubbed) skins, or microwave them. They come out creamy and flavorful and the dairy or fake dairy ingredients feel like an intrusion.

And then I layer them around browned ground beef, onions and peppers - shepherd's pie.

Plain soy yogurt can be parve, and it's wonderful in mashed potatoes.

I don't see anything wrong with margarine. I grew up with more margarine than butter, which may have helped, but I don't see the point of people getting bent out of shape over it.

Nor does the fact that lard probably makes better pie crusts help much, either

Ah, you see, once Jews had this thing called schmaltz. And it was a room-teprature solid fat, and it wasn't dairy. But those days are gone; you can't get enough fat off of a single chicken to make a single pie crust, not that I ever buy whole chickens because nother dhole or I eats white meat much. And goose is not really a popular supermarket item.

I've seen schmaltz sold separately at my local kosher market. I've never bought it, though, so I don't know the quality.

In Lady Montifiore's Jewish Manual, she gives recipes for pie crusts using beef drippings (and uses chorizo as a flavoring agent in pretty much everything not specifically fish or sweet.)