Cooking School Secrets: Caul Fat

I was a caul fat virgin. And I wish I had stayed that way...even if knowing about it makes me a member of the culinary subculture.

For those of you who are lucky enough to have never encountered it, caul fat is the lacy-looking fatty membrane that surrounds the internal organs of some animals (cows, pigs and sheep, for example). It's used to bind things - a stuffed, rolled piece of meat, for example - or to encase sausage meat. It keeps its contents moist and rumor has it that it's preferable to string because it melts away as it cooks and you don't need to cut anything off the end product.

I had an immediate aversion to the stuff. It looks pretty, kind of like a spider web, but it feels like the globs of fat that it is. Figuring it was some sort of traditional French technique I didn't have to pay much attention to, I zoned out, but I should have known better. Our cooking exam at the end of the class included a caul fat recipe.

I decided to practice the recipe at home and headed off in search of caul fat, looking forward to the rush I'd get from ringing the butcher's bell and asking for something so esoteric.

The last thing I expected was a roll of the eyes and a chuckle from the butcher at Safeway. After all, folks in customer service are used to dealing with strange requests, right?

He explained that no one carries or uses "that stuff" anymore, even the old butchers, and suggested I use string.

My sentiments exactly.

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