Now that it has been a few years and we are now getting to be closer friends, I feel safe to share one of my most closely held secrets with you. Here it goes:
There! I feel so much better now that I have come out to you and my secret no longer can get in the way of our more honest friendship. But please, if you don’t mind, can we keep this just between the ten of us? Don’t tell anyone! Having the whole world know about this secret is the last thing I need.
I’m sure now that I’ve told you all sorts of culinary happenings from our mutual past will start to make more sense.
For instance, do you remember that time when I made for you a simple roasted chicken and potatoes for Sunday supper? You were thinking that the potatoes were the richest, most delicious oven-roasteds you had ever eaten? I knew this was true because you exclaimed, “my God, these are the richest, most delicious oven-roasteds I have ever had, how did you make these?”
I managed to avoid answering that question because, well, I wasn’t quite confortable sharing secrets with you then. Now you know my truth: I always keep a jar of rendered duck fat in the refrigerator. It is my ‘secret ingredient”for many of the dishes you rave about.
The last thing I need is for you to go out blab this all around town and cause a run on duck fat. The competition for spare duck fat my local butcher will step up and I might have to pay a fair price. Right now, my butcher practically gives the stuff away for free. He must not realize what gold he has in those duck scraps? So if we all stampede in there all at once asking for duck fat he will certainly get wise and raise the price.
So please, mum is the word. I’m telling you though, cook with it once and you will be determined to find a source all for yourself.
Sure, you can buy it fully rendered and ready-to-go, either online or at most specialty grocers and that is just fine for small jobs such as this one for duck fat popcorn or for roasting those heavenly potatoes. Rendering it yourself is pretty easy, however, and it will yield a tastier fat. If you’re nice I’ll show you how later.
Either way, its still a secret worth keeping. Shhhh….
Duck Fat Popcorn
adapted from Francis Lam of Gilt Taste
This is what you will need:
- 5 tablespoons duck fat, divided
- 1 tablespoon salted butter (optional)
- 8-10 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves stripped and chopped (about 2 tablespoon leaves)
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 1”x2” strip orange peel
- 2 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
- 1/3 cup popping corn
- Fine salt, to taste
- Grated orange zest, to taste, for garnish
This is how you make it:
- Begin infusing the duck fat topping.
- In a very small saucepan melt 3-4 tablespoons the duck fat over very low heat.
- Add most of the thyme leaves, stems, garlic, and orange peel.
- Allow to infuse at the lowest of heats for about 12-15 minutes.
- Do not let fat get hot enough to sizzle.
- Infusion should happen at a heat just low of ‘sizzle’ or ‘simmer’.
- If it bubbles take it off the heat. This step can be done ahead of time.
- Remove saucepan from heat and let cool.
- When you are ready to make popcorn you can reheat gently on the burner.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons duck fat, the vegetable oil, and 4 kernels of popcorn over medium-high heat in a 3-quart saucepan.
- Cover the pot. Let oil heat until the kernels pop.
- When all kernels have popped you know the fat is hot enough to pop the full batch.
- When the testers have popped you can add the remaining corn.
- Shake the pan vigorously , add a few a pinch of salt and then cover the pan, take it off the heat, and count to 30.
- Put the pan back on the heat and when the fist kernels pop you can gently shake the pan back and forth while the kernels pop away.
- Once the popping slows to a few seconds between pops don’t get greedy.
- Stop the process by removing the pan from the heat and remove the lid to let the steam escape.
- To finish off the popcorn add the 1 tablespoon butter to the infused fat mixture and gently heat until fully melted swirled through the duck fat.
- Dump the popcorn into a big serving bowl.
- Remove the cloves, stems and peel from the infused duck fat and butter and pour the mixture over the popcorn, to taste, while you mix the mixture with a large spoon.
- Taste the popcorn and then sprinkle the fine salt and mix some more. Adjust the seasoning by adding more of the duck fat, salt, etc. I use it all!
- Complete the batch by sprinkling the remaining thyme leaves and FINE orange zest and serve.
- Be generous with the zest as this is the best part.
This recipe (method) comes courtesy of Francis Lam , the features editor at Gilttaste.com. (I didn’t know what one of my favorite food writers was doing at an online clothing retailer but evidently they do a good business in food items too.) I picked t up via his amusing Twitter stream which I strongly recommend you follow. He is also a judge on Bravo’s “ Top Chef Masters “. My tastes must not be as subtle as Mr. Lam’s ’cause I amped up the flavors just a bit. Its quite optional but in my version I add back in just small amount of the butter which isn’t enough to undo the duck fat goodness but just enough to make the dish even more beguiling.
Why can’t I keep my big mouth shut?