“Jemima Puddle-Duck became quite desperate. She determined to make a nest right away from the farm. She set off on a fine spring afternoon along the cart-road that leads over the hill. She was wearing a shawl and a poke bonnet. When she reached the top of the hill, she saw a wood in the distance. She thought that it looked like a safe quiet spot.” (Beatrice Potter, Jemima Puddle Duck)
”If you want good-tasting food you need to use a good amount of fat,” he said. ”It nourishes meats and seafood. It makes them much more silky. I use duck fat to sear scallops and lobster since it has a nice rich flavor. We don’t advertise it on the menu, because unfortunately people get nervous.” (Chef Christian Delouvrier of Lespinasse, as qtd by Melissa Clark in “The Rich Little Secret of Top Chefs: Fat”)
Jemima Puddleduck is a wonderfully naïve and independent character created by Beatrice Potter. I spent hours of my daughter’s childhood reading to her about Jemima, wearing her poke bonnet, barely escaping the clutches of Mr. Fox one day while on a quest to hatch her own eggs. Elizabeth loved Jemima Puddleduck, who to her young mind, existed as a real creature in our very real world. So it happened one day, while reaching for a frozen duck in the freezer section of our nearest H.E.B grocery, I was stopped mid-action by Elizabeth’s plaintive, fervent objection to my buying and roasting a duck that looked so strikingly like – well – a duck, and hence so strikingly as Jemima might have looked had she not been rescued by the good farm dog who had dutifully followed her that day she left her farm-home. Yes, I did leave that hapless duck (who obviously had no guardian farm dog watching over it) in the H.E.B. freezer, and from that moment on I have never roasted or otherwise prepared duck as any part of a meal. Even though my sensitive, gentle daughter now has children of her own (and also eats duck when she has the chance), I cannot bring myself to cook and eat anything that resembles Jemima Puddleduck.
Fortunately, I cannot say the same about duck fat. Of course Ms. Jemima Puddleduck’s cousins must sacrifice their lives in order for jars and cartons of silky, smooth duck fat to sit on grocery shelves, waiting to be enhance the flavor of roasted or fried potatoes, or perhaps add savory deliciousness to lightly sautéed fresh vegetables. These jars of prepared, rendered duck fat, however, reveal no vestige of the feathered fowl from which it is taken; it looks so removed from its source that I can safely use it without guilt. I just try not to think too much about ducks when I take it from the jar.
Traditionally associated with its popular use in the Glascony region of France (where people believe it tastes better than butter), the use of duck fat is growing in popularity in the United States. Duck fat is lovely, rich, and delicious. It melts quickly and smoothly. It has a high smoke point, which means that it won’t smoke and its flavor won’t change when one uses it to fry foods. Frozen, it will keep indefinitely. Tightly covered and refrigerated, duck fat will keep for about six months. It is used as a one to one ration replacement for butter or other fats. For those who worry about such things, duck fat is actually lower in saturated fat than butter. Furthermore, it contains a high amount of oleic acid (the element in olive oil that researchers think makes it so beneficial in the Mediterranean diet. For those others of us who worry about other such things, duck fat is an all-natural, minimally processed fat. Even though it’s offered for sale in chain retail stores (I buy my duck fat at Whole Foods), it can also be found locally at farmer’s markets and butcher shops. In summary, duck fat is both easy to use and easy to store; adds richness, depth, and sophistication to dishes in which it appears; is a healthy source of fat; and is a locally available, low-processed ingredient.
The real beauty of duck fat is its versatility. It can be used in savory foods as well as in desserts. Although it adds enhances the flavor and texture of all dishes in which it’s used, it is an especially exciting ingredient to use in gluten-free dishes, which sometimes need more of a texture boost than do gluten-containing dishes. Duck fat made the following three dishes I made over-the-top scrumptious. Unfortunately, I lost the accompanying pictures (through technical difficulties) of two of the dishes, but I include the recipes in this post anyway.
Duck-Fried Salmon With Chocolate Balsamic Sauce (adapted from Chef Allison Barshak’s Herb-Crusted Salmon recipe)
The duck fat adds a nice rich flavor and crispy texture to the salmon in this dish.
1 lb russet or Yukon gold potatoes
Half and half
Butter, to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
Put potatoes into large pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water until potatoes are covered. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes, or until done – a fork can easily be poked through them.
Drain potatoes, place in a bowl. Add salt, pepper, and butter to taste. With a potato masher or an electric mixer, mash potatoes until the butter is melted. Mash, or beat in, enough half and half to make the potatoes creamy.
12 asparagus stalks, with woody end removed
Salt to taste
Butter, to taste
Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. When the water is boiling, add the asparagus stalks. Allow asparagus to boil for about 40 seconds. Remove from heat, drain, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Add butter to taste.
1/2 cup gluten-free panko (such as Kinnikinnick or Ian’s)
1 ½ tbls dried Italian herbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
1 tbls milk
3 – 6 oz. salmon filets, no skin (6 oz. each)
2 tbls duck fat, plus a dab more for greasing a baking pan
In a bowl, mix the beaten egg with the tbls of milk.In a shallow dish, mix the Italian herbs, salt, and pepper with the gluten-free panko. Dip each salmon filet first in the egg mixture. Then dredge each filet in the panko-herb mixture until each is completely covered with crumbs.
Put oil into a non-stick sauté pan and heat to medium high. Place fish, crumb side down, into the pan. Cook for approximately 1 minute. Flip and cook for another minute. Place the filets in a shallow pan greased with duck fat and finish by baking in a 500 degree oven for 4 to 5 minutes.
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp heavy cream
1 oz 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tbsp European-style butter, unsalted – cut into cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
Put Balsamic vinegar in pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce it by 1/3. Add heavy cream. Bring to a boil then turn down heat. Remove from heat.
Add the 1 oz. chopped chocolate and let sit 30 seconds. Then whisk the chocolate into the sauce, until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is smooth. As soon as the chocolate has been incorporated into the vinegar reduction , begin whisking in butter, a little at a time. As the butter melts, the sauce will thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Keep warm. As the sauce sits on the stove it will continue to thicken, if it gets too thick, add a little warm water.
Note: To plate the meal, Chef Barstak suggests placing heaping spoonfuls of mashed pots in the middle of the plates. Top the potatoes with the salmon filets, the place the asparagus to side of fish, in the mashed potatoes. Drizzle the sauce around the outside of food (not on it), framing the food. I plated the food as she suggests and the meal looked very attractive. I wish I had not lost the pictures I took; I will make the meal again and take more pictures to show with this recipe.
Duck Fat Hamburgers
Added to hamburger, duck fat adds moisture and a smoother texture to the meat in these burgers. some of my family members noted a subtle enhance flavor, as well. All my family members agreed that burgers made with duck fat are more juicy and moist. I am not allowed to make burgers without duck fat anymore.
2 lbs of free-range, grass fed ground beef
1 egg, beaten
2 to 3 tbls duck fat
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the beaten egg and duck fat into the hamburger. Form the hamburger into six third-pound patties. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a while, to firm them up before cooking. Just before cooking, season with salt and pepper. Grill or pan-fry to desired degree of done-ness.
Note: we tend to make an assortment of smaller and larger burgers. Larger burgers fit well on regular hamburger buns for those family members who can eat wheat, but gluten-free hamburger buns are notoriously small; therefore, smaller burgers are easier to maneuver on gluten-free buns. I have recently begun to eat my burgers on Udi’s gluten-free bagels, though. I find that they are larger than gluten-free hamburger buns of any brand, their texture is softer, and they hold up to condiments extremely well.
Duck-Fat Apple Tart With White Chocolate
Duck fat really shines as an ingredient in gluten-free pastry. It creates a tender, delicate texture and crumb, while adding a pleasing nuance of savory to the sweet.
125 g (1/2 c) Almond flour
75g (3/4 c) Tapioca flour
50g (1/2 c) Superfine brown rice flour
*1 ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon
¼ cup butter
¼ cup duck fat
62.5 g (½ c) powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flours and sugar together in a bowl or food processor. Using a pastry cutter or the food processor, cut the butter and the duck fat into the flour – sugar mixture until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Press the onto the bottom and up the sides of a non-stick, 9 x 9 x 1 inch tart pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
*Ceylon, or true, cinnamon has a flavor distinctly stronger than the Vietnamese cinnamon commonly sold as cinnamon in the United States. Grocery stores such as Whole Foods, HEB Central Market, and Sprouts sell Ceylon cinnamon in bulk.
3 egg yolks
3 c milk
½ c sugar
1/3 c cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
2 tbls butter
1 tsp Mexican vanilla
*1 tbls cream sherry
Beat the egg yolks well in medium bowl or glass measure. Gradually stir the milk into the eggs until blended. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add a small amount of milk to the dry ingredients, just enough to form a paste. Gradually add the rest of the milk mixture. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil (This step takes quite a long time; be patient!). Boil and stir one minute. Immediately remove from heat. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Stir in the vanilla and the sherry. Place the custard in the refrigerator; cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Cool the custard completely before assembling the tart.
*Be sure to use a fine quality of sherry; do NOT use cooking sherry. Salt is added to cooking sherry to preserve its shelf-life; it will detract from the flavor of the custard.
4 small granny smith apples, peeled and sliced thin (about ¼ inch thickness)
2 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp Mexican vanilla
2 tbls cream sherry
2 oz good quality white chocolate, melted
Melt the butter in a large frying pan or sauce pan. Add the lemon juice, brown sugar, vanilla, sherry, and apples. Gently sauté the apples over medium-low heat; completely coat them in the cooking liquid. Cover the apples and cook just until the apples are tender when poked with the fork. Remove from heat and drain. Save the pan juices for some other purpose. Cool the apples completely.
To assemble the tart, spread enough cooled custard over the cooled tart to go about half-way up the sides of the tart. You will have left-over custard; save it for another purpose. Place the apples slices in a pinwheel pattern, covering the entire surface of the tart. Microwave the white chocolate in fifteen second increments until just melted. Using a spoon, drizzle the chocolate in a decorative pattern across the surface of the tart.
After a grueling hill workout last evening, the last thing I wanted to do was to cook a large meal for Phillip and me. I took stock of our fridge and decided to make quesadillas. I grabbed some left-over slowed cooked pork, as well as some left-over salad I had made with black beans, mango pico de gallo, and lime vinegriettte. I put some pork and black bean salad on corn tortillas and sprinkled the pork / bean filling with grated chipotle cheddar cheese. I decided on a whim to fry the quesadillas in duck fat. The quesadillas were crisp, flavorful, and outrageously yummy. I have no pictures of the nearly indescribably delicious; sometimes a girl just wants to sit down and eat when her hard-earned dinner is ready. Trust me: duck fat makes everything taste better.