How to Render Duck Fat and Make Crispy Quacklings in One Shot

How to render duck fat for making duck confit, the best fried potatoes, and more.

8/3/2021 5:00:00 PM

Make a snack and use the rendered fat for the best fried potatoes, duck confit, and more.

How to render duck fat for making duck confit, the best fried potatoes, and more.

knows that duck fat is phenomenal for cooking. It imparts rich, meaty flavor to ingredients and then can be used to preserve them as well. And it's not hard to come by, seeing as ducks have so much fat on them to begin with. If you're going to be taking on any of the recipes in this

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, knowing how to work with duck fat is a simple but important piece of the equation.Once you've successfullybroken down whole ducksinto parts, you will have a nice pile of skin and fat ready for rendering; farm-raised ducks generally yield around one pound of fat trim per bird. I like to start the next steps right away so that I don't end up crowding the fridge with a mess of raw poultry odds and ends that still need to be dealt with.

For this Big Duck Project, our next steps are curing legs for confit, hanging the crowns in the fridge to dry-age, making duck stock, and rendering the fat. Whenever presented with a situation like this that involves a bunch of kitchen tasks to tackle, take a second to assess which ones to get working on first. The general rule of thumb is to begin with tasks that are mostly hands off and take a long time because once you get them working, you can turn your attention to the hands-on projects and start living the multitasking life you've always wanted. headtopics.com

The most hands-off task here is without a doubt the fat rendering, which simply involves slowly heating the duck skin and fat until the fat has fully melted, all of the water content has been driven off by evaporation, and the bits of skin have been gently fried into crispy golden-brown crackling morsels. The best way to do this rendering is also the simplest: in a saucepan on the stovetop.

The Best and Easiest Way to Render Duck Fat: StovetopThe stovetop method is by far the easiest way to render duck fat, involving the least equipment and cooking steps. All you will need is a heavy-bottomed saucepan, a splash of water, the duck fat and skin, a fine-mesh strainer, and a heat-proof container. If you have cheesecloth in your kitchen, great—we can put it to use here, but it's not essential.

If you're the type of person who insists on using immersion circulators and pressure cookers whenever humanly possible, knock yourself out rendering fat with the gadget of your choice (more on that later). But know that you will be making life harder for yourself. Stovetop takes less time and effort and allows me to keep an eye on it while working on other tasks. If that sounds good to you, here's how to do it.

Cut the Duck Fat and Skin Into Manageable PiecesWhen breaking down whole ducks, it's most efficient to cut away fat and skin without worrying about the size of the pieces of trim as you work; just get them off the bird and set aside. However, once you've wrapped up the butchery, take a minute to go back over the fat and skin with your knife, cutting the scraps into roughly equal-sized pieces; around two inches is great. They don't need to be perfect; you just don't want a six-inch piece of skin cooking alongside much smaller ones because they won't cook at the same rate. (Side note: If your knives are on the dull side, no judgment, but you may have better luck snipping slippery fat into small pieces with kitchen shears.) headtopics.com

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Combine the Fat With a Touch of Water in a SaucepanI like to think of rendering fat as the savory sibling ofmaking caramel. Both are fundamentally simple stovetop cooking projects that involve melting ingredients into something delicious, but both run the risk of scorching into an acrid kitchen fail if you try to melt the sugar or render poultry skin in a dry pan. This risk can be minimized by starting both of them with a little water in the pan as a safety blanket. In the case of duck skin, the water heats up and gets a jump-start on the fat-rendering process; by the time the water has evaporated, you'll have enough liquid fat built up in the pan to prevent the solid pieces of skin from burning.

Youcanrender fat and make caramel without adding any water, but you have a smaller margin of error, and you have to pay closer attention to what's happening in your saucepan. The whole point of starting with the fat-rendering project is to get a hands-off task working, so don't be a hero.

A quarter-cup of water per pound of duck fat is all you need to ensure that the pieces of skin won't stick and scorch to the bottom of the saucepan as they cook (so if you broke down two ducks, you will probably need 1/2 cup of water). There's nothing wrong with adding more water than that, except you'll have to wait even longer for it to fully cook off.

Use a heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan if you've got one, as it will provide nice even heat distribution and its shiny reflective surface will allow you to clearly monitor the progress of the rendering. Cast iron skillets work fine as well, but it's harder to track the color changes of the fat during cooking, and they're more heavy and cumbersome to maneuver when it comes time to strain the fat at the end. headtopics.com

Cook the Fat Low and SlowGet the saucepan on the stovetop, set it over a medium-low flame, and let it do its thing. You can give it the occasional stir with a rubber spatula to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot, but other than that, it won't require much babysitting.

As the fat starts to render you will notice how the liquid that begins to accumulate starts out milky and cloudy. That is water trapped and suspended in the melting fat as an emulsion, much like avinaigrette.As the mixture comes to a simmer, it will start out with a cloudy appearance, bubbling rapidly, making it hard to see through the surface. The natural water content in the duck skin and fat, as well as the water added to the saucepan at the beginning, is being driven off through evaporation.

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Gradually, the bubbles on the surface will become clearer and will begin to subside, revealing clear, golden-hued duck fat and bits of skin gently frying in the rendered fat. If you've ever made a batch of brown butter before, you should be familiar with this cloudy-to-rapid-bubbling-to-calm-and-clear fat. It's the same process of heating to drive out moisture.

Keep cooking the morsels of duck skin, stirring them occasionally to make sure they cook on all sides, until they are golden-brown and crisp. If at any point the fat starts smoking, turn down the heat or just move the saucepan off the heat completely. The whole process should take between 45 minutes and an hour.

Strain the Fat and Get CracklingNow all you need to do is strain the fat into a heatproof container through a fine-mesh strainer. If you have cheesecloth handy, you can line the strainer with it to catch any small bits of duck skin sediment. Keeping sediment out of the fat will extend its long-term storage shelf life, but seeing as we will be using the fat very soon for the

duck confitpart of the Big Duck Project, this isn't much of a concern here.You should now have a decent amount of clear liquid-gold duck fat and a strainer basket full of crispy, delicious duck cracklings (aka"quacklings"). Do not toss those cracklings! They are your first cook's snack reward of the Big Duck Project. I highly recommend tossing them in a bowl with za'atar and coarse sea salt while they're still hot, for a super-simple tasty snack. You can also use them wherever

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