We bet you were wondering how those slabs of cooked seafood tasted so succulent — the poached fish on the menu may be getting poached in lard. Behind the scenes, that low-fat, lean fillet of fish is being submerged in quarts of duck fat, lard, olive oil, or some other condensed fatty liquid. Bubbling beneath the layers of lard, the fish crisps up nicely to form a flavorful fillet that could never be produced using mere water.
The menu doesn’t specify the medium. Nothing on that menu explicitly says “poached in water.”
Chefs confessed their tactics in a report conducted by The New York Times. The poached halibut on the menu at Union Pacific, for example, was being submerged in a vat of duck fat before being served on a deceivingly healthy plate of vegetables. The consumer of the seafood dish likely assumed that their meal totaled to a meager sum of calories, consisting principally of lean protein and fiber. Though in actuality, they consumed a great deal more calories from oils or butter.
“People are afraid of fat,” asserted Rocco DiSpirito, the Union Pacific chef, to The New York Times. He’s right — they are. But they don’t need to be.
Fats of all kinds — including saturated, unsaturated, and the like — are actually really good for you. Fats can help regulate cholesterol, increase your longevity, and even make you smarter. So for calorie-counting, fat-limiting consumers, the fat-poached fish might actually be a healthier choice than their usual low-fat, restrictive meal. They just don’t think so.
But does that make it okay for restaurants to continue with their healthy deception?
“I can’t cook without fat,” defends chef Dan Silverman. “People love fat. But they just don't want it waved in their face.”
Studies show that food actually becomes more nutritious when it’s enjoyed by the consumer — so fat-poached fish could get you more protein, more omega-3 fatty acids, and more vitamins and minerals than a bland, water-poached iteration, simply because it tastes better. There’s something counterintuitive about saying “no” to duck fat and going home later to devour pills of fish oil. And yet, it happens.
Besides poaching fish in fat, there are a few other secrets restaurants are hiding up their sleeves.