Duck fat is the fat rendered from duck while cooking. As anyone who has eaten duck fat-roasted potatoes will tell you, the fat is light and silky and adds a rich, savory flavor to anything cooked in it.
Duck fat comes in cans or jars and is readily available in high-end grocery stores, but it can be expensive to buy. Luckily, rendering your own fat at home is so easy—even cooking a couple of duck breasts will make enough fat to cook pommes sauté (fried potatoes).
Why Cook With Duck Fat?
Duck fat has a low melting point and can heat to a high temperature without burning, making it perfect for frying, searing, and roasting. The fat can even be used in baking, but will need to be frozen first to make it stable.
Most importantly, duck fat has great flavor—even frying an egg in it for a brief time will bring add depth. The taste is not overpowering, but more a hint of savoriness. The French are the primary users of duck (and goose) fat, with it utilized as an everyday fat in the home kitchen.
Rendering With Duck Breasts or Legs
When cooking duck breasts, the first step is to slash the fat on the breast several times with a sharp knife. This makes the breast look pretty and also stops it from curling up during cooking, but the primary purpose is the help release all the fat under the skin while frying.
With legs, it is not necessary to slash the skin; the leg has a bone in it, so it will not curl. However, to get the maximum fat released during cooking, prick the fatty part of the leg with a toothpick.
Rendering With the Whole Bird
If you are lucky enough to be cooking a whole duck, then the easiest way to release the fat is to use a toothpick and prick the skin sparingly on all the fatty parts including the legs and breasts. Do not over-prick as you may spoil the appearance of the finished bird. A vast store of fat is found at the neck opening, so make sure to prick here well.
How to Render Duck Skin and Fat
If you do not want to present a whole bird to the table, then consider removing the legs and breasts for cooking and render down the remaining skin and fat. You can use the carcass for making a duck stock.
- Carefully remove any skin and fat left on the carcass with a sharp knife.
- Chop it up and place in a saucepan with 1/2 cup of cold water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until all the water has evaporated. The carcass can then be reserved for making stock.
- Strain the skin and any bits in the pan through a cloth and sieve into a clean bowl.
- Wipe out the pan, return the fat, and bring to a medium boil for a few minutes to cook off any remaining water. It will splutter, so be careful, but do not put a lid on the pan. If there's any water left, the fat it will turn rancid when stored.
How to Clean Duck Fat
Once the fat is released, whether from the leg, breast, or whole bird, it must be cleaned as impurities can spoil the fat during storage. Strain the fat through a cloth and a sieve before storing. When cooking with duck fat, there is often some leftover. Clean it again and add it back to the jar for use again later.
Storing Duck Fat
Clean fat can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely. Always put cleaned fat into a clean sterilized jar. If you are lucky enough to gather a lot of fat and you're tight on storage space, you can freeze it. The fat will keep for up to one year in the freezer.
Using Duck Fat
Now that you have your jar of liquid gold, you can use the fat in so many ways. In France, most duck fat is used for cooking confit de canard. Here, the duck is cooked in its own fat then put into storage jars and covered with yet more duck fat which preserves the meat. Stored in a cool place like a cold cellar or fridge, the duck will keep for up to a year. Confit is France's 'fast food," since the only prep needed is to pull the leg or breast from the jar, drop it into a hot pan or onto a baking tray and heat through. The fat given off is then used for fried potatoes or duck fat fries to serve alongside.
Is Duck Fat Good For You?
As with any fat, eating in moderation is best. On the scale of fats, duck sits firmly on the better side. Duck fat contains 35.7 percent saturated, 50.5 percent monounsaturated, and 13.7 percent polyunsaturated fats, making it not too far behind olive oil. Trailing further behind on the goodness scores are butter, lard, and beef fat.
However, in terms of calories, there is not a lot of difference. One tablespoon of duck fat comes in the same as the beef at 115 calories, lard is 120, and butter is 102. Olive oil, though not animal fat, may be the good guy in the fat world, but it still has 119 calories per tablespoon.
You may not want to be spreading duck fat on your bread every day, but for cooking in moderation, it's a good option. Duck fat is also easily rendered without any need for chemicals or additives, making it even more appealing.