Question: What are the best species of duck for eating?
Here in France, the most widely available duck is the Barbary, originally imported from Central America by the Portuguese. It is the duck we most often see in the butcher shop and on the table, it has a rich, elegant flavor and, when cooked properly, a moist and tender texture. The duck which is fattened to produce foie gras is the Mulard species, and it comes into its own around the holidays, though is increasingly available year-round. Meat from the mulard is deep, dark, almost meat-like. I always say it is my favorite red meat. No matter the species, duck has a natural affinity for fruit, honey, garlic and herbs, roasted potatoes.
In the U.S. the most available duck is the Pekin, also called the Long Island duck. Those fattened for foie gras in the U.S. are typically the Rohan species, which in France is called the Rouen Foncé.
Question: How do I “make” my own duck fat?
My best answer: don’t “make” it, buy it. Rendering fat from duck is technical and you want a beautiful, pure product. There are many outlets in the U.S. that offer duck fat; I suggest dartagnan and fatworks
That said, I urge you to get duck (or goose) fat, because it is gorgeous to cook with. It has a high burn point and is 65% unsaturated fat, with a profile similar to olive oil, so it is considered a “healthy” fat and you can use it just about everywhere, from sautéing vegetables, to folding into mashed potatoes. After all, in southwest France where duck (and goose) fat is used like oil and butter in other regions, abundantly, heart disease and other ailments associated with saturated fats is rare. I’ve been at plenty of southwest tables where a dollop of fat on a slice of toasted sourdough bread served as an appetizer; try it, with freshly ground pepper and fleur de sel. You’ll love it
That said, if you’ve cooked fatty duck and you’ve kept the heat moderate so the fat remains a golden, light walnut color, be sure to strain that fat and keep it! (If it is dark brown or has burnt bits in it, chances are it’s too broken down to use again, so get rid of it.)
Use that fat as you would oil, remembering not to heat it too hot, as it will break down and burn more quickly than fresh fat, since it’s already been heated. Sweat or braise vegetables, stir it into a soup or stew, mince garlic and parsley, fold it into the fat, and either use it as a seasoning or fold it into bread dough. Your imagination is the limit!
More questions answered in the next edition!