Every now and again one of the big supermarket chains introduces a new product and then sits back and watches to see whether we’re going to buy it. If we don’t always do that, that would probably be why, not long afterwards, they discontinue that line.
It happened with tatsoi and bok choy, the Asian ‘spinach’ varieties that became fashionable about a decade ago.
It happened again in the late Nineties when, suddenly, we started seeing small savoy cabbages in the vegetable fridges. Whatever prompted them to test us on these items, who knows, but logically that’s what they do. They’re testing the market, watching and waiting to see whether it will be worth their while to stock tatsoi, or savoy cabbage, or whatever, as a matter of course.
Woolies recently seemed to take a flyer and stock up on chunky tubs of duck fat, something that I have occasionally asked for over the past couple of years, always to be met with a puzzled frown, as if to say, “Why the hell would anybody want to buy that?” Call me ‘eurocentric’ if you must, I really don’t care, but in Europe you do find things like goose fat and duck fat – in tins, perhaps surprisingly – especially at certain times of the year. They’re brought out particularly at feast times, when people are likely to use either of these two rather similar fats for roasting potatoes or enriching a luxurious sauce. Or for people wanting to make confit duck, of course.
My point is: if the product is being introduced because the likes of us – the “foodies”, for want of a significantly better word – have been promoting this or that ingredient and how to use it in the kitchen, we need to follow through when (as doesn’t happen often enough) one of the supermarket chains actually listens to us for a change and reckons, okay, there it is, now let’s see if they’ll put their money where their snobby mouths are.
So duck fat it is – or at least was last week. So I popped a tub in my basket, even though for the moment I had not a clue what I was likely to use it for, and when I got home I popped it in the freezer. It freezes brilliantly, and the bonus is that you can take it straight out of the freezer and scoop some out into a frying pan. It remains soft enough to be scooped easily, and so there need be no defrosting and consequent waste.
Obviously you can use it to make confit duck, and then store that in the fridge for some time – if you do that, when the night comes when you’re having your confit duck, just drain and shake off excess fat and fry the duck leg or quarter for a few minutes on both sides in an otherwise dry frying pan, allowing the skin side to turn golden brown.
If duck fat is something you’re keen to use, or to try, check out the Woolies fridges and see if you can find some, and buy a tub – I seem to remember it cost about R49, and that’s for a 500g tub, the same fighting weight as a large tub of yoghurt or feta cheese. And given its freezing abilities, grab it while it’s there, because I’d almost put money on the product not sticking around for very long, knowing how fickle we can be.
Sure, tatsoi and bok choy still sometimes crop up in the shops, but not nearly as often as they did a decade ago. And I have not seen a solitary savoy cabbage in this country since I returned six years ago. Such a pity, because savoy cabbage is a magnificent vegetable, easily five times as delicious – as well as that lovely curly texture – as the run of the mill cabbages we get.
Having said all that, what I used my duck fat for is good old-fashioned roast poatoes. They come out gloriously golden and the duck fat flavour is a dream. I was roasting a leg of lamb as a welcome home dinner for my daughter who had returned from London, so I also used the duck fat to brown the joint in. It was an experiment really, but the result was that the duck fat seemed to intensify the lamb’s flavour, and the skin came out beautifully.
For the best roast potatoes, either boil or steam them until they are parcooked but still utterly holding their shape. If they are starting to disintegrate, you’ve gone too far. Dry them either by tossing in a dry pan for a few seconds or leaving to dry in the steamer basket in a cool place, shaking it now and then.
The fat must be sizzling hot when the potatoes go in. Place enough duck fat to go about a third of the way up the potatoes in an oven dish that will hold the potatoes fairly compactly. Pop that in the oven and when it is very hot, take it out and add the potatoes, returning to the oven immedately.
I don’t time things like this. Just have a look every now and then, and then turn after about 20 minutes to cook the other side until they’re golden all over. Remove to cool a little on the work top, then scoop out, drain on kitchen paper, and serve. They do not improve by standing around for other things to be cooked, so try to time them so that you serve as soon as the potatoes are done. Salt them lightly.
When next you’re at Woolies, pop into the manager’s office to compliment them on their brilliant forward-thinking.
First published in Weekend Argus July 212