Food for Thought
Is duck fat the new butter?
Lunching at downtown’s Strip House recently I discovered a sinful item on the bar menu: beef jerky with buttermilk fried onions. This was not the dried-out, chew-on-it-for-a-week beef jerky of roadside ice houses we all know and hate. This was some serious succulent meat.
Chef de cuisine Steven “Skip” Vanderpool was glad to offer me the recipe for his thinly sliced strip steak snack. “It’s easy,” he told me. “Just marinate for two days and then dry it out in the oven.”
But it was so glossy and tasty. Could the recipe I held in my hand really be that easy?
“Of course,” he said with a grin. “But I glaze mine in duck fat.”
Duck fat? Really?
“It’s delicious!” cries Chef David Grossman of the Branch Water Tavern, who uses it for his popcorn appetizer. “We process the ducks in house and render the fat. Popcorn tastes great popped in duck fat.”
And I agree that it does. So is duck fat the new butter?
Actually, the French have been cooking with duck and goose fat for centuries, and it is certainly more tasty and even considered—in moderation—healthier than hydrogenated oils because of its high flash point and lower cholesterol.
You’ve probably tasted it at restaurants in confits and sautés, but more Americans are discovering this substitute for butter and oil in their home kitchens. It’s great for browning potatoes, roasting and grilling vegetables, smeared on roasted fowl and even, yes, for popcorn and jerky.
And you don’t have to buy a whole duck and render the fat yourself to try this at home. There are plenty of Web sites where you can order rendered duck fat, like Graisse de Canard Gold for just $17.50 for a 12-ounce jar. Or pick up Grimaud Farms’ duck fat at Central Market for $12.99 a pound, which is what I bought when I decided to try a little quackery in my cookery.
Being a Brussels sprouts fan, I found this recipe from Martha Stewart for roasting the veggies in duck fat and set to work.
Did I mention duck fat has a high smoke point? And I have a stove that NASA could learn a few tricks from?
So of course the first time I tried cooking with duck fat, I set off the smoke alarm and had to spend time fanning the ceiling and opening all the doors and apologizing to the neighbors. Undaunted, I tried again, lowering the temperature on the stove top much lower than I would if I were just roasting Brussels sprouts in truffle oil as I normally do. And everything turned out just fine.
Cooking with duck fat lends a more savory taste to the food than butter or oil and I’ll definitely try it again. Maybe even on popcorn.