Christmas 2013 came and went, leaving in its wake a half-dead potted conifer, a low-level hangover (or maybe it’s a cold?), a deep appreciation for stretchy pants, and a half-full jar of duck fat, reaped from the preparation of one fantastic Christmas meal. Our day of feasting culminated in a dinner of Muscovy duck breasts, seared first to extrude some of the fat, and finished quickly in the oven, then topped with a drizzle of balsamic-fig sauce, and served with a parsnip purée and crispy, roasted brussels sprouts. It was one of the best meals I can remember. And now I’m left with the task of putting all of that luxurious, gamey duck fat to good use. I racked my brain, and cupboard, for an inspiring ingredient, when lo– from the pantry shelf glowed a jar of golden kernels. And that’s how I came around to duck fat popcorn– like ordinary popcorn but with a luxurious secret. So light, so airy, but satiating enough to be eaten for dinner, if you’re one of those people, like myself, that sometimes wants to eat popcorn for dinner.
At a glance: Did you know that duck fat is lower in saturated fat than butter? That’s right! It’s made up of 50% monounsaturated fats, most of which is healthy linoleic acid, a nutrient that aids in calcium absorption and kidney function. I’m not saying you should eat it all the time, but you shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy a little now and then.
Now, let’s get, um, quacking.
Duck Fat Popcorn
5 Tbsp. duck fat
8-10 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves stripped and chopped (about 2 tablespoon leaves)
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 1”x2” strip orange peel
2 Tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil
1/3 cup popping corn
Sea salt, to taste
Grated orange zest, to taste, for garnish
1. In a small saucepan, melt 3-4 tablespoons duck fat over very low heat. Add most of the thyme leaves, stems, garlic, and orange peel. Cook on low to infuse the oil with the spices, for about 12-15 minutes. NOTE: Do not let the fat get hot enough to sizzle. Infusion should happen at a heat just low of simmer. If it bubbles, take it off the heat.
2. Remove saucepan from heat and let cool. When you are ready to make popcorn you can reheat gently on the burner.
3. 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.
4. When the test kernels have popped, 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 first 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 you can remove the pan from the heat and remove the lid to let the steam escape.
5. 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. Salt to taste and sprinkle with remaining thyme and orange zest.
Adapted from recipe by Trevor Kinsey of SissBoomBlog, who adapted it from Francis Lam of Gilt Taste.
Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg