This week’s recipe is very simple, and is actually a setup for next week’s recipe. At the same time, this recipe also carries a mandate: you should be cooking with duck fat. Not only does it have an excellent nutritional profile, it is an ideal roasting fat. Potatoes in particular really shine when cooked in duck fat.
Ducks have been consumed since prehistory, but the Chinese were the first to domesticate them, over 3,000 years ago. It may surprise you but nearly all domesticated ducks, including the white Pekin duck which is the most commonly-consumed duck, are descended from Mallard ducks. The only exception is the Muscovy duck, which is a native of Central America, and has recently been gaining ground as a domesticated duck raised for food. Ducks have a thick layer of fat between their muscles and skin, to help them stay buoyant. Up until the 1900s, duck breast was more often than not served rare, something that most people nowadays (myself included) would have a hard time stomaching.
2-3 lbs white potatoes (Russet, Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup duck fat
sea salt to taste
Peel and cut your potatoes, then put them in a pot and fill with enough water to cover the potatoes by an inch.
Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 2 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Drain and rinse the potatoes with cold water, shaking them around to rough up the edges. Continue to rinse with cold water until they are cold to the touch, about 3 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.
Parboiling potatoes may seem like an unnecessary extra step, but it allows for some of the starch to cook out of the potatoes. When cooking, the starch turns to sugar and can brown the potatoes before they can get really crisp. So this method will allow you to get a good balance of soft on the inside, and crunchy on the outside. This is done in many restaurants, especially in Europe.
Put the duck fat in a rimmed baking sheet, then put the baking sheet in the oven to warm, about 5 minutes. Take the baking sheet out of the oven, add the potatoes and turn the potatoes so they are evenly coated with duck fat. Put the sheet in the oven to roast for 30 minutes, then flip. Increase the heat to 450 and roast for another 20 minutes, then flip again. Roast until they are golden brown, about another 10 minutes. Patience is key – don’t take the potatoes out of the oven just because your timer says to – the potatoes will tell you when they’re done, because they’ll look incredible and smell just as good as they look.
Pull the beautiful potatoes from the oven, place on some paper towels to drain, and season with sea salt to taste.
For future experiments, try adding root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga cut in similar sizes to the roasting pan (no need to boil ahead of time).