9th January, 2010: Posted by G.L. Pease in Tools

A confession: I am something of a cheapskate. I used to attempt to hide this fact behind a masque of frugality, but the simple truth is that I’m just cheap when it comes to some things. I won’t skimp on ingredients or knives or sautée pans or things like that, but once in a while, I really blow it by just being cheap.

I’ve never owned a fat separator. Being a little old-skool, I always figured there are dozens of ways, or at least two, to rid the stock of that layer of grease without resorting to a single-purpose tool. (Alton Brown – I know if you’re reading this, you know who he is – is one of my heroes, and he despises single-purpose tools even more than I do.) So, I’ve never bought a fat separator. Until sometime this last year. (That’s 2009. It’s still hard to believe it’s already behind us.)

I don’t remember why, but it became suddenly and absolutely essential that I own one. A switch was flipped, some series of neurons fired, and I had to have – needed – a fat separator, and I needed it fast. So, I made a few phone calls, and located one at my favorite culinary shop in Berkeley, Sur la Table. Like a rocket, I was off to buy one, before everyone else on the planet simultaneously decided they needed one as badly as I did, and every shop in the world sold out before I got one. Sometimes that sense of obsessive urgency hits me like that.

I was presented with two sets of two options. There were two and four cup versions, in plastic and in glass. Not being able to comprehend why anyone would find a pint-sized fat separator useful, I knew it was the quart version all the way. But, plastic or glass?

The price difference was really not that significant, when you consider that this is a tool that will likely be pressed into service frequently. (Despite having lived without one in my kitchen all these years, once it has taken residence, it’s going to get used.) Here’s where my rational mind went to Pluto, and that cheapskate nature I was talking about took over where reason should prevail. The plastic version was about $16, the glass one not quite twice that. I bought the plastic.

I justified that it would be more durable, that if it inadvertently slipped from my greasy hands and went crashing into the sink, it would bounce, rather than shatter, and all I’d lose was its contents. Certainly, glass is fragile, and that should be a concern, but what I failed to consider is significant. And, that’s why I find myself wishing I’d made the other choice.

Plastic is basically oil. It’s crosslinked and polymerized and rigid, but it’s still pretty much just oil. And, as everyone knows, like solvates like, and when you put fat on fat, they get under each others’ skins. It turns out that cleaning this thing is a nightmare. While my Pyrex measuring cups come clean almost instantly with a little detergent and hot water, the plastic fat separator, which is, after all, going to get greasy, requires at least two cycles of hot soapy water and thorough rinsing.

I discovered this because last time I used it, I discovered that I’d put it away not pristinely clean. When I pulled it form the cupboard, I found a rather vigorous colony of ants consuming what I’d left behind. And, of course, ants don’t simply find the one thing there is to eat. They invade wholesale, and scout around for whatever else they might find to munch on. The ensuing fiasco put a dramatic detour in the otherwise smooth sailing of the day. There’s nothing worse than being perfectly organized, and on schedule, and having having havoc wreaked by an invasion of Argentine ants.

I thought about this earlier today when I was washing up after making a test pot of Chicken Tortilla Soup. It took three passes of soap and hot water to get it squeaky clean. The glass measuring cup was spotless in one. (It’s true – We do not own a dishwasher. There’s simply not room in my 1930s kitchen, in desperate need of a remodel. We wash by hand.)

Which is why I’m going back to the store this weekend to by the glass one, if they still have it. It might not be for everyone, but it’s the right choice for me.


3 Responses

  1. Rhea S. Says:

    I have so been there! Most of the time that cheapskate in all of us needs to be squelched!

    On another note:
    Drinking a cup of coffee from my new flavoRevolutions mug and lovin it! Compliments to the designer. I’ve received a number of comments on its clean elegant look! And today is the first day I am using it!

  2. glpease Says:

    Glad you’re enjoying the mug, and thanks for the compliments.

    Oh, and congratulations for posting the very first comment ever!


  3. Ben Says:

    Ha! I think you just found the one degree of separation between a wool suit and a fat separator.

    And I too am enjoying my glp mugs. I am pretty attached to the Chelsea Morning mug, probably because it was your Christmas present to me. But the FR mug beckons…