Duck Fat and How to Use It--and a Story of Scholarships
by Victoria Challancin
Those of you that regularly follow my blog know that I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which rests in the mountains of the High Central Plateau, about 185 miles northwest of Mexico City. Twenty-six years ago, when I moved here from Bahrain, where I was teaching at the university there, San Miguel was truly a small, provincial town. I had to boil my water and the milk that was delivered daily from a local dairy in galvanized cans. Locally grown fruits and vegetables were delicious and plentiful, but gourmet items were non-existent. While in the capital city everything could be found, here in San Miguel we had to make do with whatever appeared in the tiny green groceries, markets, or small mom-and-pop tiendas.
Life has changed. Conveniences abound and daily life is just easier in almost every way imaginable now. Have we sacrificed charm for modernity? Yes, indeed. But many of the changes are welcome. In spite of heavier traffic on cobbled streets meant for carriages and horses, a historic center bursting with tourists, and land being devoured with the construction of too much new housing, life is almost perfect here. I feel like I live in a rare, relatively unspoiled Paradise, which happily for this foodie now can boast fabulous artisanal cheeses, fresh pasta, gourmet items from all over the world, stores which feature organic produce and products--more blessings than I can numerate. Yes, life is good.
And it got even better last week when, while looking for wonton wrappers in the freezer of Luna de Queso (my indispensable source of imported gourmet items, cheeses made by the owner's mother, deli meats, fabulous olives, terrific locally-made bread from the Buena Vida bakery, and more...so much more) I spied some frozen duck fat. Duck fat! I couldn't believe my luck. And the price, by international standards was incredible, 32 pesos for about 8 ounces (approximately US$2.50).
Having loved duck in any form all my life, from the smother-fried dishes made by my aunts on my Italian grandfather's farm, to the incomparable lacquered varieties found hanging in the street stalls in so much of Asia, to the fantastic dishes found throughout France, to wonderful tagines in Morocco...I love duck and order it whenever it presents itself. But this newly-found duck fat was destined for one thing: roast potatoes.
If you have ever eaten potatoes roasted with duck or goose fat, you'll know why I was so excited to find this coveted item. In England, France, and the home of my dear Irish/English/International friend Wendy Meagher, I have eaten the most delicious roasted potatoes imaginable. Soft and creamy on the inside, with a crunchy exterior that boasts the most delicate of subtle flavors, potatoes bathed in fowl fat are just lusciously, sinfully delicious. And now I can make them myself! And I did, much to the dismay of my vegetarian husband. But selfishly, I did make them and consume them with glee. And here is the recipe.
Recipe: Potatoes Roasted in Duck Fat with Garlic and Rosemary
(by Victoria Challancin)
Cook's Notes: Honestly, the fresh rosemary and minced garlic are just gilding the lily when it comes to roasting potatoes in duck fat. Nothing but a dusting of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper are necessary. But still...the rosemary and garlic are also delicious. Depending on the variety of potatoes you choose, you may not need to preboil them. If you choose not to precook the potatoes, you will need to roast them for probably an hour or more.
1 lb new potatoes or any small variety, cut in half if larger than 1 1/2 inches
2 tablespoons duck fat
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly minced fresh rosemary
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450F/220C.
Place potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain.
Return to the pot and toss for a minute or two to complete dry the potatoes.
While the potatoes are cooking mince the rosemary and garlic, if using. Place them in a baking dish with the duck fat. Add the drained potatoes while hot and toss to coat the potatoes well with the duck fat mixture. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Roast in the hot oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally during the baking time.
Why Use Duck Fat?
In the Gascon region of France, duck fat is know as "Gascony butter" because it is used as the traditional source of fat in the diet. And with good reason. Although animal fats are avoided by many, not just vegetarians, if your diet permits the use of animal products, it is actually a relatively healthy choice. Comprised mainly of oleic acid, one of the "good" monounsaturated fats (the same as olive oil) and stearic acid, which makes up most of the saturated part of the fat and which is generally considered heart friendly, duck fat is certainly healthier than any hydrogenated vegetable oil. For more details see this excellent article "The Sanity of Frying with Goose or Duck Fat" at ochef.com.
Duck fat also has a smoke point of 375F/190C, the same as olive oil and other fats from fowl, such as goose or chicken.
How to Render Duck Fat:
From a New York Times article by Melissa Clark: "Cut fatty skin into large chunks and place in a large skillet. Add 1/2 cup water and cook over medium-low heat until the fat melts, leaving behind crisp, golden pieces of skin, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain fat through a fine mesh sieve. (Eat the golden pieces of skin sprinkled with salt). Refrigerate or freeze fat in an airtight container" Makes about 1 cup.
For a bit more information see this excellent short article from Australia's Essential Ingredient blog:
For concrete ideas, click here for 199 different recipes using duck fat from the BBC food site.
Ways to Use Duck Fat:
- make duck confit--that meltingly unctuous dish of slow-cooked duck meat cooked in its own fat
- make cassoulet, a time-consuming, but oh-so-worth-the time French dish of beans, sausages, duck, and more (probably my favorite dish in the whole world)
- use it to season practically any vegetable--especially root vegetables--when sautéeing
- try using half butter, half duck fat in sweet or savory pastries
- use it as a base to brown flour for gravy or as a base for almost any sauce (I am thinking of the French "Mother" sauces here)
- add it to dried beans, lentils, or other legumes
- fry your eggs in a bit of it
- rub it on chicken before roasting
- use it not just for roasting potatoes, but for making hash browns, rösti, or latkes
- toast dry rice in it before making any rice dish, even risotto
- brush it on anything you are going to grill
- toss a small amount with pasta and continue by adding whatever sauce you choose--or just a bit of Parmesan cheese freshly grated onto it
- put it on popcorn and toss well (yes, I really did find this use for it while searching!)
- cook stone fruit or apples with a bit of duck fat
- spread it on croutons
- use it to flavor soups
- add it to pickled cabbage as is done in parts of Germany
- try it in liver pâté instead of schmaltz, which is customarily made from rendered chicken fat
Mujeres en Cambio--an NGO enhancing the lives of women in Mexico
Since 1996 I have proudly worked with other volunteers for this grass-roots' organization committed to enhancing the lives of women living in the rural communities surrounding San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. One of our projects is to provide educational scholarships to 150 young women living in rural communities. Currently, 38 out of the 150 young women we sponsor are now in university, having been with us since the sixth grade. Lives are changing.
My friend June Chism took these photos this week at our distribution of scholarship money to the university girls, some of whom received new computers, a dream for them, from the wonderful NGO called Computadoras Pro Jovenes that provides computers to young people in Mexico.
With education, these women can change not only their own lives, but the lives of others. One of these young women with whom I have been working has maintained a 9.6 grade average out of 10, and lives in a tiny house with 11 other people. The parents, neither of whom have any education at all, provide a life for their family, existing on less than US$60 per week, which must be used for food, electricity, water, clothing, and schooling for their kids. Almost impossible. When she contacted me to find out about the outcome of her university interview and discovered she had been given a full scholarship, she burst into tears. And so did I.
I invite you with great pride to visit our website, scroll through the photo slide show, view a short video, and see just what can be accomplished with the love and hard work of caring volunteers and determined women who work hard to improve their own lives and those of their families.
Elizelda, a second-year university law student, receiving her new computer from CPJ
Andrea, a first-year university psychology student
Maria del Carmen, a first year university student who wants to study to be a teacher
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
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