I first stumbled upon duck fat as an everyday kitchen ingredient about five years ago. I was testing a particularly chefy set of recipes for a magazine, and two of them called for a tablespoon of the stuff. Since I couldn't find it anywhere locally, I ordered rendered duck fat from an online provider that only shipped in quart and gallon containers. There was a lot of extra duck fat in my fridge when the project was over. And it wasn't hard at all to find something else to do with it.
If you've ever cooked with duck fat, you know it's got a very soft and loose consistency, as if it could melt at any second at room temperature. The softness actually reminded me a lot of vegetable shortening and I'd been making pies at the time. The duck-shaped light bulb illuminated.
I'm not the first person to try out duck fat in a piecrust. In 2006 the New York Times published an article that thrust the author into more pie baking than any home pie baker should ever endure. During the animal-fat testing phase (there were many phases) she found that "duck fat crust had the lightest flavor and, texturally, struck the best a balance between crisp and flaky," compared to beef and even the highly prized pig fat.
Serious bakers go to great lengths to secure leaf lard, the rendered fat from around a pig's kidneys, but it's not so easy to find. Local food blogger Kelley Yandell's post on The Meaning of Pie has sources and tips for days if you want to go down the leaf lard rabbit hole. Don't go to your grocery store, though, as most readily available products are hydrogenated and terrible for you. And while the fresh lard sold at most Mexican groceries isn't hydrogenated, it's rendered from other cooking processes. It may be great for frying beans, but it will make your pie taste like bacon.
That's why duck fat is so great. It's flavor neutral, which means you can use it as readily in an apple pie as you can in a quiche, and it's available at Central Market and Whole Foods with no home-rendering required. The only downside is the cost: Seven ounces will set you back $10.
Duck fat in hand, replace the shortening in your favorite piecrust recipe and get ready for maximum flakiness. If your recipe uses all butter, just replace 30 percent of the butter with duck fat.
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And don't think the duck fat games stop with pies.
Try duck fat roasted potatoes. Grab some fingerlings, or other small potatos, and boil them till they're soft. Toss the spuds in some melted duck fat and oven roast them at 425 degrees, turning once, until the skins get a little papery and loose. Notice the smell in your kitchen. Your roommate, spouse, significant other or dog will all love you. This is happiness. Try rubbing duck fat on a chicken before you roast it. Now your dog really likes you.
The stovetop is a great place to play with duck fat, too. Why not fry an egg in duck fat for breakfast? If you grew up frying your eggs in bacon grease the fatty flavor may not excite you, but smoke and swine flavors won't overwhelm them.
Really, anything you can do with butter, olive oil or bacon fat, you can do with duck fat, often with improved results. It adds a little decadence to anything it touches and makes your kitchen smell a bit like a Chinese restaurant. Let's see your butter do that.