Searching for Tony Bourdain

Foie gras taste on a Big Mac budget

Nectar of the Gods

My mother bought me a jar of duck fat. I was ecstatic.

It sat in the cupboard for weeks as I tried to think of a meal worthy of this wonderful frying agent. I would almost certainly be making duck fat fries, but a good opportunity never really presented itself. And it seemed like a waste to just make something for myself. So, it sat.

That is, until yesterday, when the time finally seemed right for some potatoes fried to a crisp in what our hero has described as “the nectar of the gods.” Now that Adam has taken up residence in Chicago, we’ve decided to try a new restaurant every week and, at my sister’s suggestion, make a dish at home of the same cuisine.  As we’ve still been settling into our routines, the first two weeks didn’t coordinate as we’d liked. But this week, we were a little more organized.

At the suggestion of my friend Isabel, who joined us at Smoque for barbecue last week, we plan to get burgers at Kuma’s Corner this week. So, our culinary scheme called for a home-cooked burger. From my weight loss days (which were actually successful until law school happened), I remembered a great bison burger recipe from the Weight Watchers cookbook. With worcestershire sauce and chopped vidalia onions mixed with the ground bison and a ball of shredded cheddar cheese in the middle, they may be relatively healthy, but they’re damn good.

But, of course, the burgers needed a side. And although we’re trying to eat healthier (I swear, we are), it seemed the time had come for my lonely jar of duck fat to be called into action.  But I wasn’t about to just throw this liquid gold into a hot pan, toss in some potatoes, and hope for the best. Enter, Bobby Flay.

Adam has Bobby’s Burgers, Fries, and Shakes cookbook.  On my last visit to Fargo, I perused his cookbook collection and reviewed Bobby’s ever-so-helpful tips on making the perfect fries.  Now, my mother has made some stellar fries just throwing julienned russets into her countertop deep fryer, but I was prepared to go through Bobby’s extra steps to help ensure duck fat success.

First, I had to cut the russets (Bobby’s preferred potato variety for fries). My knife skills, for lack of a more eloquent word, suck. Thank the culinary gods for the V-slicer. I snapped in that julienne attachment and went to town. The russets were perfect sticks in no time.  Then they had to soak. Bobby prefers 8 hours, but we had limited time and empty stomachs, so we cut that to one hour (Bobby’s minimum).

After patting the future fries dry, they were ready for frying round one. Yes, Bobby suggests two rounds. This first part was the blanching stage. I turned my electric skillet to 325 and poured in the entire jar of glorious fat.  Within minutes, our kitchen smelled unbelievable. In four batches, I plopped the fries in and fried them for 3 minutes until they were a pale gold.

Let me tell you, the draining and cooling period before round two was excruciating.  The smell of duck fat hung deliciously in the air and our stomachs growled.

Fortunately, they cooled quickly.  While Adam cooked up the bison burgers, I began submerging batches of blanched fries into 375-degree fat. This, I have to say, smelled even more amazing. The fries crisped in minutes, making it hard not to plunge my hand directly into the molten fat and shove some into my mouth.

After a sprinkling of kosher salt, and these babies were heaven. I was terribly proud of myself. The only thing missing was some wonderful dipping sauce like truffle mayonnaise. But, really, they didn’t need a thing.

I love exotic ingredients, but I’m often afraid to use them. They typically involve a significant investment on my part, and the thought of ruining the dish before I get to enjoy that highly-anticipated ingredient is heartbreaking. I think that is why I haven’t been very culinarily adventurous until the last few years. But I have found that with proper preparation and careful observation, it often turns out to be a rewarding move.

We were able to reclaim about 3/4 of the jar of fat, which now sits (with an internet-recommended spoonful of salt in it) in our fridge, awaiting another culinary adventure. Talks of hashbrowns and french toast are in the works.

So, I have 3/4 of a jar of duck fat. And, for now, it sits…

-Michonne
Chicago

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