My lack of a working camera is devastating at the moment, for last night I made the most gorgeous roast potatoes I have ever seen (and that includes potatoes roasted by professionals). But wait, you say, handsome is as handsome does—how did they taste? Well, they did taste quite handsome, too. Last night I roasted potatoes in duck fat.
The story begins this summer, when I bought a Greenmarket duck on a whim. Duck is one of my favorite meats, but I had never made it at home. After consulting several cookbooks, I decided to follow the French Farmhouse Cookbook’s method, which calls for the duck to be roasted simply in a pan with a couple of inches of water in it. Other books offered many more complicated options involving pre-poaching, air-drying, constant basting, and worse, but this simple way worked beautifully—crispy skin, tender meat, no fuss.
Before the duck went into the oven, however, I had to trim away its globs of excess fat, which wouldn’t do the roast any good. Several books advised me to render the fat for later use. Even though all you have to do is heat the fat in a skillet until it melts (20-30 minutes over medium heat, stir intermittently) and then strain it to remove crisped-up skin and other solids, and even though it would keep in the refrigerator for months, I was skeptical. I worried that rendering fat would mean that I had taken this home cooking thing too far. Did I really want to have a little jar of animal fat in the refrigerator, its solid milky opacity making it impossible for me to ignore what it would eventually do to my arteries?
Yes, I did want. I rendered the fat, strained it into an old mustard jar, labeled it “DUCK FAT” with a Sharpie and, I'm sorry to say, some smug self-satisfaction, and gave it a prominent spot on the refrigerator door.
Last night I finally got around to using it for the first time, to roast potatoes according to Nigel Slater’s instructions in Real Food. Cubed potatoes tossed in olive oil (and maybe some spices) and roasted in a hot oven are a dinnertime staple for us, but this is a different matter entirely. Cut larger, given a quick boil, and then tossed in a dry pan to rough up the edges a bit before roasting, these potatoes turned a lovely caramel color in places, stayed prettily blond in others, and were quite creamy on the inside and delectable throughout. I braised some cabbage, too, beginning with duck fat instead of olive oil, but it didn't make much difference. The potatoes—the potatoes were the thing.
Potatoes Roasted in Duck Fat
adapted from Nigel Slater’s Real Food
-Preheat the oven to 400F. I roast my potatoes in a jelly roll pan and put it in the oven to heat up while I get everything else ready.
-Melt 1/4 - 1/2 cup duck fat. I think I used about 1/3 cup.
-Peel 5 potatoes about the size of your fist. Mine were Yukon gold and weighed about 2 pounds total. Chop them up into pieces too big to eat in a single bite. Maybe you want a few 1-biters to get extra crispy, but the larger ones get a lovely crust, too, and are full of creamy flesh. Put them in a saucepan of cold water with 1 tsp or so salt, bring to a boil, and boil gently for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, toss the potatoes back in the pan, and jerk it around a bit to rough up the edges; this is important for the texture of the finished potatoes. (The boil-before-roasting may sound like a pain in the neck, but it’s not that bad, and I do think it made a difference.)
-Remove the pan from the oven, pour the melted fat in, and tilt to coat the pan evenly. Add the potatoes to the pan, toss them in the fat, and roast for about 45 minutes, stirring only once. (I added 3 cloves garlic—skin on, crushed—to the pan and don’t think it made much difference.)
-These needed a lot of salt since they were not salted before roasting: I used 1 tsp sea salt, crushed in a mortar and pestle. A few grindings of black pepper are lovely here, too—the hot, simple potatoes enhance its fragrance mightily.
* This was really only enough for 2. Two pounds of potatoes may sound like a lot for 2 people, but trust me, we would have eaten more if there had been more. Of course, potatoes and cabbage were our whole dinner…as a side dish this might feed four, but you’d better prepare something divine for the main event or everyone will just be longing for more potatoes. To eat these potatoes with a green salad for dinner would be, I say, very heaven.