What Do You Do with the Duck Fat?

Not long ago my stepdaughter Bronwyn remarked that she loved to watch me in the kitchen because I was like a child, I was having so much fun. And daughter Audrey years ago observed about my husband and me, “You two no sooner finish one meal than you are talking about the next.”

I plead guilty on both counts. It is true that I love to cook. I love smashing the garlic, squishing a tomato, kneading and punching the bread dough, stirring a sauce mindfully, then tasting and tweaking it, as the kitchen comes alive with good cooking smells. When I am making something, I am already thinking of ways to give what’s left a second round. The challenge of making one dish into another with a character all its own is one of the creative aspects of cooking and I find it endlessly satisfying, perhaps even more so now that I am alone.

But I realize that many people consider cooking a chore and they aren’t really comfortable alone in their neat little kitchens. There is no one there to turn to for help when the sauce begins to curdle or to ask a simple question such as how lively should a simmer be. Most recipes today are written in what I call recipe jargon, succinct formulas that don’t explain the whys and wherefores of a technique so you really don’t know what you’re doing.

I have been blessed over the years because as an editor I have worked with some of the great cooks of our time. And I have learned so much watching them and asking questions. They have become the voices in my kitchen: Julia Child reminding me to be sure to dry that meat before sautéing it and not to crowd the pan; Jim Beard showing me how to temper an overly assertive onion to go into his heavenly onion sandwich; Michael Field insisting I rub salt on the steak before searing it (Julia and Jim did not agree); Madhur Jaffrey demonstrating how to fry a paste—a surprising technique I thought peculiar to Indian cuisine only to discover years later that Lidia Bastianich does exactly the same thing when she pushes aside the aromatic vegetables she has sautéed to create a dry spot in the pan, where she then fries the tomato paste to enrich its flavor before blending it into the sauce.

Julia wrote in the introduction to her Kitchen Wisdom, “Once you have mastered a technique, you hardly need look at a recipe again, and can take off on your own.” How true. But we need those expert voices in our kitchens grounding us in the right techniques. And I think we need each other to exchange ideas and goad one another on creatively.

Last year when the Washington Post started a weekly column on cooking for one, I was asked to do an introductory piece and then to participate in their chat room at lunch time on the day the food section came out. It was a very lively exchange about all sorts of food matters. I particularly liked the question, “What do you do with the duck fat?” In the recipe section of my food memoir The Tenth Muse I had written, “Be sure to save the duck fat.” But my questioner was quite right: For what? And it started me thinking how delicious potatoes are pan-fried in duck fat, to say nothing of browning meats in it, or drizzling a small amount onto the breadcrumb topping of a casserole or bean dish such as cassoulet. It is a pure, unadulterated fat that has real flavor, and I find it a treasure to have on hand.

So let’s share our treasures and our experiments and add to the voices in our kitchens as we learn from one another.

16 Responses to “What Do You Do with the Duck Fat?”

  1. Judith – I so enjoyed your stories in the video of the New School panel. I wrote about it “Joy Does Not Go Out of Style” http://jacquelinechurch.com/ldg/1749-joy-does-not-go-out-of-style.

    I (like so many others) owe you a debt of gratitude. Nearly every day, I have something to thank Julia for and I would never have known her had it not been for your decisions and courage. Many folks today have no idea, but I’m old enough to remember before there was a Food Network. In fact, I was born the year Mastering came out – auspicious don’t you think?

    My husband and I are almost always discussing our next meal. Lovely to have found, after forty years, a man who is not afraid of my appetite – I’ve got my Paul!

    Jacqueline Church
    The Leather District Gourmet

  2. radish says:

    As a child growing up in Russia, I was at times given a treat – fried (caramelized) onions in duck fat. I can tell you that with a rustic hunk of bread, these onions and some salt, I was a happy camper. I could have eaten this every day. I always save duck and goose fat – because these are little gems in the kitchen!

  3. Judith,
    In Serious Pig John Thorne (one of my favorite food writer, wrote about Maine Fries. These are cubes of raw potato fried low and slow for about an hour and often eaten as a meatless (or nearly meatless) main dish. This past weekend I had Maine Fries for supper one night and used duck fat and at the end added some chopped duck confit I’d made. It was a meal for a king. Also, some day you should try a grilled cheese grilled in duck fat. Yum!

  4. Another use for duck fat – I boiled some new potatoes tonight and smashed them with salt, pepper, parmigiano, and duck fat – something I usually add olive oil to. It occurs to me fat is still fat. I’m thinking about ice cream made with duck fat instead of heavy cream.

  5. Cathy Payne says:

    I love duck, but my favorite part of preparing it is rendering the lovely duck fat! It imparts such nice flavor to eggs, potatoes, or sauteing the leftover duck. However, it really shines when added to a nice chicken liver pate!

  6. We bought a house in the Dordogne region of France in 1990. I usually spend three months there every year and cook almost every day – restaurants pale before what you can do at home. There’s a book popular there called “Goose Fat and Garlic”. It’s written by a Brit who worked with the old farmers for many years. One of my favorites is Mussles with Sorrell

    Make your sorrel puree in the usual way, melting it in butter then adding cream and salt

    Steam the muscles in white wine. Cool and remove from shells, reduce and strain the liquid.

    Saute chopped bacon in little goose fat, toss with the muscles and liquid.

    Fry thick country bread slices in lots of goose (or duck) fat and serve the muscles and bacon in a pile with the bread and sauce with the sorrel.

    Peter Wing Healey

  7. susan wing says:

    Ms. Jones,
    I just discovered your blog…how could I have not looked for you sooner? Regarding duck fat, one of the first things my Chinese mother in law prepared for me was steamed rice, bitter greens and a little bowl of hot duck fat. It was a revelation. I thank you for all your wonderful books!

  8. Walter Rich says:

    Can I get an autographed bookplate from you? I plan to buy your cooking for one book when it is released and would love your signature.
    - Walter (Atlanta, GA)

  9. Brian says:

    I luv duck fat!!! Slowly fry your next duck in it with thinly sliced potatoes. or use it instead of butter when you make your steak pinwheels; I luv pinwheels! slice a 1″ peice of meet into 1″ by 1/4″ strips put duck fat, processed(paste) garlic and spinach along the lenth of it roll it up tie it and quickly broil it or they are great on the grill. I luv duck fat on my toast instead of butter and I use it to make crutons. There are a million uses for duck fat and I am glad I am not the only on who loves rich food chatting about this. Eat all the food you want you cant squeeze as many calories as a big mac on a plate no matter what you do so eat well and have it taste heavenly.Awsome subject thanks B

  10. Sandra Levine says:

    Although it may sound a bit odd if you haven’t tried it, duck (or goose) fat is an excellent cooking medium for fish. Since the heat must be kept relatively low to avoid burning, the technique is poaching rather than sauteing.

  11. Today, my copy of The Pleasure of Cooking for One arrived from Amazon. I had ordered it weeks ago, and it was just released. I am delighted. I have a question for which I hope you can supply an answer. My absolute cooking bible is “Julia’s Cooking Wisdom”. I cook from it almost daily. One recipe which produces outstanding results, but which is a royal pain to make is her recipe for pate brisee. I have followed it to the letter and make it several times a week. BUT, it is a bear to roll out because it is so “short”. Do you subscribe to her formula–and, if so, how do you manipulate the dough?
    Shirley Baugher

  12. M Gallagher says:

    A friend of mine who grew up in a Mennonite community makes heavenly, light pastry. I finally got her to tell me the secret: Duck fat.

  13. Ginny Keil says:

    Dear Ms. Jones,
    In response to your comments on Lenny Lopate’s show the other afternoon about recipes for beef heart: My father was a butcher and was well known for his hamburger meat. He said the secret ingredient was to add beef heart. I don’t know the exact proportions, but probably 1 to 10 ratio of heart to rump or chuck might be reasonable.

  14. Susan York says:

    Judith- I love the Pleasures of Cooking For One. Gave me a lot of great new recipes and ideas for my blog. Thanks. Going to try that Popover recipe. Reminds me of my mother.

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