Gourmandistan

A decent excuse for roasting: Duck Fat Focaccia

It’s not as if Gourmandistan is unfamiliar with ovens. After all, we’re about to buy a new one because half of our decades-old double unit burned out from fun tricks like 24-hour pork roasts and 550° “turn the place into a pizza parlor” sessions. But we have been somewhat unsuccessful with home-roasting whole ducks. Saint Alice of the Incredibly Simple Roast Chicken Recipe (that’s salt, pepper, 400°, 1 hour) once disappointed us with a boring, too-greasy duck, though fervent acolyte Michelle put the blame on the bird (or the farm that raised it). Nevertheless, when we contemplated a course for the Marksbury Farm duck we’d pulled from our freezer, we decided to keep Alice on the shelf.

Consulting other tomes in our extensive library, Steve found credible sources advocating cutting the duck up into more easily cookable chunks such as legs and breasts. He pitched this idea to Michelle, who (despite Steve’s invocation of a high school anatomy course) doubted his ability to nicely dissect the bird and voted to once again roast it whole. (Gourmandistan’s current constitution gives Michelle’s vote slightly more weight. This, at times, causes mild unrest amid the rest of our nation’s population.) Using another recipe (and possibly a superior bird) helped produce a slightly better dinner, but we still didn’t think roast duck should be a regular feature on our dining rotation. Until Michelle found this recipe and reminded Steve he’d saved the rendered duck fat from our fair-to-middling roast.

Saving fat is somewhat of a habit in Gourmandistan, as we’re a lipid-venerating society. Butter is basically the head of our pantheon, olive is our trusted patron, but duck fat is also quite far up in the hierarchy. (In the underworld, awaiting our condemned souls: Olestra.) Steve has been trying to perfect focaccia, and found the Gourmet recipe/available duck fat opportunity too tempting to pass up. Substituting liquified duck fat for the more usual olive oil made even the rising dough marvelously fragrant, and baking the thyme-strewn rectangular pie filled the house with an amazing aroma. The final product had an excellent, rich roasted flavor, though Steve still wants the dough to be a little bit lighter. When we get our new oven we’ll probably try roasting a duck again. It may still not prove to be as delicious as Alice’s chicken, but the focaccia fringe benefits will be hard to resist.

These are lucky French—not Kentucky—ducks.

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38 comments

  1. Eha

    If some of you had been thru’ my Med School experiences of always having the ‘wisdom’ of cutting up the ‘bits and pieces’ [don’t ask what we met in the dissection hall], perchance the problems had been lesser! . . . Viva the ducks and for the sake of all of us, may they paddle awfully fast . . .

  2. Jane Beck

    Steve you should be a writer. SOooo funny. 1) I believe we have the same Constitution. 2) We tried BBQ’ing a duck in our early marriage and almost lost the Weber, neighbor and the bird.
    3) Please freeze and bring a piece of the focaccia to the big apple.

  3. Duck and goose fat are essential and irreplaceable in the kitchen. Roast potatoes cooked in duck fat are wonderful as is anything that is touched by heat and duck fat, except for my hands. When I read that you had been cooking at 550, I assumed it was Centigrade and wondered what sort of a beast of a cooker you had:)

    • One of my saddest memories is of having to jettison a couple of big jars of duck fat I bought in S.W. France because our bags were too heavy to get on the plane! (It’s quite expensive to buy here in the states.) Yeah, that would be a rockin oven, wouldn’t it?

  4. Great post. I’m a big believer in cutting up fowl before preparing. I don’t believe in St. Alice, and I don’t think it’s possible to cook a whole bird correctly (some part always suffers). I’ve been thinking about getting ducks too — zeitgeist! (Although I’m not very fond of the Guinea fowl we got.)

  5. I cook whole ducks all the time and never have problems with them being too fatty, no matter what the breed. I prick them all over and oven cook them like a chicken, but I pour the fat off at half hour intervals.
    Your focaccia sounds very good 🙂

    • We need to try again, before just falling back to the easy (and delicious) legs and breasts. I do wonder, though, if the birds available in the UK and France are not just better than what we get here.

  6. Oh my goodness. Yesterday I thought that ‘crispy belly pork’ were the three sweetest words that my eyes had ever read; now I see that they will be supplanted by ‘duck fat focaccia.’ Want!

  7. The more I learn about Gourmandistan, the more I like it. The only tIme I ever tried to roast a chicken I followed Julia Child’s recipe from MTAOFC, which has you butter it all over and the balance the slippery thing on one side then another then another…nervewracking! So I think I’ll continue making my foccacia with olive oil, thanks. 🙂

    • Thanks, Emmy! We’ll make you an honorary citizen—even if you don’t (gasp!) eat meat. And, if you ever come over to the dark side, do try the Chez Panisse recipe for roast chicken: salt, pepper, 400°, 1 hour. Now that good birds are available, all those recipes requiring basting, turning, etc. are just wrong.

      • Wow, thanks! And if I can just leave the thing alone I might be inspired to try roasting a chicken again. Just in a plain pan? It’s true that I basically never eat meat (I didn’t grow up eating it) but I’m not religious about it–and I can testify that duck fat-fried potatoes are amazing. 🙂

  8. My family makes a focaccia-type bread called spianata and, like most, it requires olive oil. The thought of this focaccia or our spianata made with duck fat has my mouth watering. I’ve never roasted a duck before but this recipe just might give me the impetus to give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

    • Now you’ve piqued my curiosity, and the great god Google didn’t help too much (though your blog came up high!). So, is it like focaccia, but perhaps a little more sturdy?

  9. DUCK FAT. GENIUS. I so want to eat/cook with you! I haven’t baked with duck fat, although I’ve played with lard. I do have a store of duck fat and goose fat (and, as it happens fatback) so maybe I need to branch out, now that the oven in the new flat is finally working and doesn’t blow up when I turn it on. (A saga.) Also, apropos of nothing, have I mentioned that I’m making guanciale????

    • It’s sad how difficult it is to find duck fat in stores outside of Europe. Finally, they have it at our Whole Foods. (Do you have WF?) Otherwise, you’re probably stuck with cooking a duck or ordering online from D’Artagnan or somewhere similar which is really expensive.

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