ooking with duck fat is kitchen alchemy at its tastiest. With a silky mouth feel, propensity for deep browning and delicate savory flavor, duck fat seems to spin anything it touches into culinary gold – from potatoes to poultry to popcorn. It’s an incredibly versatile fat, having a high smoke point, long-term freezability and unlike butter or olive oil, can be reused.
So Why Duck Fat?
The first and most obvious reason is because it’s incredibly tasty. Some say it’s better than butter, or even bacon. Duck fat offers a rich, silky mouth feel that transforms whatever it touches, without an overpowering flavor of its own. Duck fat imparts a light umami quality to vegetables and mushrooms, and is the perfect fat to partner with potatoes. Nothing crisps potatoes quite like duck fat does. The high smoke point of duck fat makes it a chef favorite; it can be cooked at high temperatures without smoking or altering its flavor. And unlike butter or olive oil, duck fat can be recycled. For convenience, duck fat stores in the freezer for quite a long time.
Duck Fat and Health
Before you object to duck fat as an unhealthy option, and reach for the margarine or vegetable oil, read on. According to Sharon Tyler Herbst, author of "The New Food Lover’s Companion," some researchers believe that hydrogenated oils may actually be more damaging than regular saturated fats. And recently, studies have taken a look at the stats on duck fat, and have proven what the French have known all along: duck fat is low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fat, making it one of healthiest animal fats you can eat. Duck fat contains only 33% saturated fat, 62% unsaturated fat (13.7% of which is polyunsaturated fat, containing Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential oils). Duck fat is closer nutritionally to olive oil, with 75% monounsaturated fat, 13% saturated fat, 10% Omega-6 linoleic acid and 2% Omega-3 linoleic acid, than it is to other animal fats. And it has less saturated fat than butter (which has 51%). While this is not a recommendation that duck fat replace every other fat or oil in the kitchen, it does encourage the use of duck fat without guilt.
The French Paradox
Long a mystery to the United States, the French paradox is the term given to the puzzling fact that the French are thinner, with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than Americans, even though they enjoy a diet full of animal fats and butter. Some theories explain that the reasons for this might include the French tendency to serve smaller portions and to drink lots of antioxidant-rich red wine. But in recent years, the researchers have looked more closely at the consumption of duck fat. Especially in the Southwest region of France, where duck is the de rigueur fat, and the incidence of cardiovascular disease is about half that of the rest of France, already less than half that of the United States. So the French that eat the most duck fat (and foie gras) have the least trouble with their tickers.
Cooking with Duck Fat
It makes everything taste better. Use duck fat as you would any other lipid. It can be used directly from a solid, soft or liquid state. As a good rule of thumb when replacing other fats in recipes, use duck fat in the same manner as the fat you’re replacing. For example, in place of a cold pat of butter, use a cold scoop of duck fat. For a drizzle of oil, use a drizzle of slightly warmed duck fat, and so on. When using duck fat for deep-frying, gently melt the solid fat over medium-high heat until completely liquefied then raise the temperature to high to bring it up to proper frying temp.
Just a Few Ideas for Cooking with Duck Fat
- Perfect Potatoes … The combination of duck fat and potatoes is a match made in food heaven. Duck fat enhances the earthy potato flavor and imparts a golden crust. Use duck fat for potato galette, roasted potatoes, pommes anna, hash browns, croquetas, sautéed fingerlings, mashed potatoes, and just about any other spud application you can think of.
- Crispy Poultry Skin … We all know that roasted poultry benefits from a pre-oven butter rubdown but trade the butter for duck fat and watch what happens. Rub some softened duck fat under the skin of the breasts and inside the cavity then massage some more over the outside of the entire bird before seasoning and sticking in a very hot oven. The gleaming, golden skin will crisp up beautifully while the breasts stay moist and succulent with extra-rich, full-flavor.
- Ultimate Sear … Using duck fat to sear meats, poultry, fish and shellfish is a surefire way to achieve an evenly browned, flavorful crust. Use it to sear veal chops, pork loins, chicken breasts, scallops, shrimp and much more!
- Dressed for Success … Warmed duck fat dressings add delicious savory character to salads, especially those made with hearty greens like frisée, radicchio, kale, endive and chards. The keys to a good duck fat dressing is keeping it simple and giving it balance, so temper the richness with an acidic bite and touch of sweetness from a fruity vinegar, citrus segments or minced shallots. Toss with greens and serve immediately.
- Vamped up Vegetables … Oven-roasted or sautéed vegetables earn gourmet cred when tossed in duck fat before cooking. A little fat goes a long way in adding richness and facilitating caramelization. All veggies will benefit from a quick toss with duck fat, from earthy roots and tubers to sugar-packed onions and more astringent produce like asparagus or artichokes.
- Classic Popcorn … Popcorn made the old fashion way - in a heavy bottomed pot right on the stove top - is ridiculously delicious when popped in duck fat. The fat adds depth of flavor that hard to describe until you try it. Check it out for yourself with our recipe for D’Artagnan Movie Night Popcorn.
- Off the Deep End … Duck fat when used alone or in combination with other high smoke point oils, such as safflower or peanut oil, makes for fabulous deep-frying. Duck fat adds extra-oomph to fried chicken, croquettes, beignets, breaded calamari, potato chips and of course – french fries. Crisp and golden on the outside, light yet creamy on the inside with a wonderfully rich flavor, duck fat fries are out of this world.
- Bake Star … Duck fat is an unexpected secret weapon in the pastry kitchen. It makes crisp, golden puffed pastry and Viennoiseries. It creates tender, flaky pâté brisée and short crust pastry while adding subtle depth of flavor and is an excellent add-in for Yorkshire pudding and pop-overs. It’s also key ingredient in our favorite duck fat cookies. Use a 50/50 duck fat and butter blend for most baking recipes unless using as a replacement for lard, in which you can use equal measure.