Andrea Chesman’s cookbook “The Fat Kitchen” is dedicated to cooking with animal fat, whether it is lard, tallow or poultry fat (otherwise known as schmaltz in certain, Forward-esque circles). Fat is universal, from Jewish schmaltz to Indian ghee to Mexican lard and it’s making a comeback just in time, as many old family recipes were in danger of being lost forever, as younger generations rejected cooking with animal fat. Recently, several gourmands have re-imagined using animal fat, from Anthony Rose’s “Schmaltz” to Samin Nosrat’s breakout hit “Salt Fat Acid Heat.”
Fat has become America’s monster under the bed, prompting visions of an oversized America for Europeans to mock. But, Chesman goes on to explain, fat isn’t bad. For millions of years, humanity evolved while eating animal fat.
If one were to follow the money being funneled for the purpose of defaming the good name of fat, one would find processed fats pointing a very powerful finger. Animal fats are older than processed fats by a good hundred years, and companies are more keen to point the blame at animal fats because there is money in newer, industrially processed fats like Crisco and vegetable oil. “There has never been any scientific evidence linking consumption of animal fats to heart disease,” Chesman told the Forward. “However, there is evidence that polyunsaturated fats, which are the main components of vegetable seed oils (except olive oil) cause inflammation and heart disease.” Guess not all fats are created equal.
“Until I was about 5 years old, my bubby lived with us,” Chesman said. She has fond memories of her grandmother making fried chicken skins, known as gribenes in Yiddish. “I remember them sitting on a plate, about eye height. Every few minutes I would sneak in and take another bit to eat, hoping not to get caught.” Then Chesman’s mother, “under the influence of the misguided medical establishment,” as Chesman calls it, switched chicken fat for margarine. But as an adult, Chesman has become an animal fat advocate, and she cooks with chicken fat whenever her recipes require it.
“If you’re making a pie, why not use lard or tallow instead of buying a refrigerated crust?” Chesman asks in “The Fat Kichen.” “If you’re making a healthy stir-fry, why not replace the peanut oil with poultry fat?” Fair questions indeed.
Duck Confit with Potatoes by Andrea Chesman
When I was younger, I traveled in France on something like $5 a day. I have to admit I wondered why people made such a fuss over duck confit. It wasn’t until I made my own that I learned how good it can be — in fact, it is one of the very best ways to enjoy duck. And that confit I had in my youth? I suspect it was old — very, very old. This is traditionally served with a bitter green dressed with a sharp vinaigrette; braised kale or cabbage is also a great accompaniment.
2 pounds thin-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes or wedges
4 Duck Confit legs
¼ cup (2.4 ounces/50g) duck fat
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
Put the potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water, and add salt generously. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as a full boil is reached, test for doneness — the potatoes should be just tender when pierced with a knife tip. If the potatoes aren’t tender, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook over medium heat until done; it should take just a few minutes. Immediately drain the potatoes and spread them on paper towels to dry thoroughly.
Remove the duck legs from the fat and use a silicone spatula to gently scrape off any excess fat that clings to the skin. Arrange the duck legs, skin side up, on the prepared sheet pan. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the skin is a deep golden brown and very crisp, checking often near the end to prevent burning.
While the duck is in the oven, melt the duck fat in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the potatoes and cook until deep golden and crisp, about 20 minutes, turning occasionally. When ready to serve, add the parsley and toss gently. Taste and season with salt and pepper — it may not need any. Serve hot with the crisp duck legs.
Excerpted from The Fat Kitchen © by Andrea Chesman. Photography © by Keller + Keller Photography. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at firstname.lastname@example.org and @shirafeder