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A holiday dish worth cooking: duck fat potatoes

Plus, where to buy duck fat.

When I talked to chef Sara Moulton earlier this year, she shared her current fondness for cooking duck, an easy-to-make lean meat with a lot of nutrients.

The protege of Julia Child, former Food Network star, current PBS chef and National Public Radio podcast regular said she often sautes a duck breast on the stove for a quick and nourishing dinner with her husband. The conversation quickly moved to the joys of using the rendered duck fat to cook potatoes.

While cooking the duck might be easy, duck fat potatoes are a bit more challenging. But they are worth any trouble.

I recently enlisted the help of my friend Janet Peterson to cook up a batch of the succulent potatoes that we especially love to serve over the holidays. If either of us is having a rough day, we often go home and make a pan of potatoes — usually texting each other a snapshot of the steaming potatoes out of the oven.

No need to cook duck to get the fat, though. We found three brands of duck fat at local grocery stores. At the Fresh Market, we found a 7-ounce container in the refrigerated section for $7.99. We also recently found an 11-ounce jar of duck fat near the olive oils at the Fresh Market for $10.99. No need to refrigerate that option. At Mazzaro’s in St. Petersburg, the refrigerated duck fat ($8.99 for 7 ounces) is kept under lock and key with the caviar, so you have to ask the clerk behind the meat counter to get it for you.

Duck fat from the Fresh Market
Duck fat from the Fresh Market [ KATHY SAUNDERS | Tampa Bay Times ]
Duck fat from Mazzaro's
Duck fat from Mazzaro's [ KATHY SAUNDERS | Tampa Bay Times ]
Duck fat from the Fresh Market
Duck fat from the Fresh Market [ KATHY SAUNDERS | Tampa Bay Times ]

To make the potatoes, I usually use my turkey roasting pan, which is 16 ¾ inches long and 13 ¾ inches wide. The sides are 2 ½ inches tall. For that pan, I use about ¾ of the duck fat in the 7-ounce container.

One reason I invited my friend to help, besides the fact that she is an expert in preparing the potatoes, is that she brings her 20-year-old pan that is well-used and well-seasoned. It’s a bit smaller than my turkey pan, and seems to make much better potatoes.

We used russet potatoes that we peeled and cut into large chunks. The first step? Boil them on the stove for about 5 to 10 minutes. This parboiling is crucial, and you have to watch the potatoes closely so they don’t get overcooked. If I can slip a knife in them pretty easily, they are ready to get off the stove.

I drain them and put them back in the same pot, then give them a little shake to break off a few bits and rough up the edges. Those are the parts that get extra crispy in the oven and make the potatoes that much tastier.

The next step is to put the duck fat in your pan and melt it in a hot oven. I usually set mine to 425 degrees. Keep the original duck fat container, because you can reuse the fat after you cook the potatoes, pouring the slightly cooled fat right back into the carton and putting it in the refrigerator.

Duck fat potatoes
Duck fat potatoes [ KATHY SAUNDERS | Tampa Bay Times ]

While the fat and the pan are in the oven, I spread the potatoes out on a clean cloth or a bed of paper towels and make sure they are all dry before putting them in the hot oil. When the pan is smoking, I slowly place the potatoes in the fat and then make sure to turn the potatoes so they all get some fat coverage. It’s a good idea to take the pan out of the oven to add the potatoes, because the hot oil can splatter on you and your oven.

The potatoes take about an hour to an hour and a half to become golden brown. I usually flip them over with a large, slotted spoon once or twice during the cooking process. When they are ready, I use the slotted spoon to remove them individually from the pan and lay them out on clean paper towels to absorb a little of the grease.

My Parisian friend Lauren Chezaud-Diot, owner of Cafe Soleil in St. Pete Beach, said she always hits her duck fat potatoes with a little parsley as soon as they are out of the oven. So we did the same.

I also salt mine while the potatoes are still steaming hot, but I let family members or guests make their own decisions on whether they want to add salt — all in the spirit of good health, of course.

Duck Fat Potatoes

4 to 5 pounds russet potatoes

5 ounces duck fat

Salt, as desired

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into approximately 2-inch chunks. Smaller chunks cook faster but potatoes that are too small will become too greasy.

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stovetop, then parboil the potatoes for 5 to 10 minutes until they are just slightly cooked. A knife or fork should slide through the potatoes with only a little pressure.

Drain the potatoes and place them on a dry towel. Blot them with a cloth or paper towel to remove any excess water.

Place the duck fat in a roasting pan, and place pan in the oven so the duck fat melts.

When fat is starting to smoke, remove the pan from the oven and slowly add the potatoes. Spoon the fat over each potato chunk to make sure they are all coated with the fat.

Place the pan back in the oven and check the potatoes a couple of times. You may need to use a spoon to flip the potatoes once or twice while they are cooking. But let the potatoes cook at least 45 minutes before you turn them, to ensure they are crisping.

Remove the pan from the oven when the potatoes are golden brown and crisp on the edges. Place potatoes on a cloth or paper towel to absorb excess grease.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and add salt to desired taste.

Source: Kathy Saunders, Tampa Bay Times