The reason why restaurant food is so delicious can be summarized into three words: fat is flavor. French and Chinese restaurants – with their respective butters and oils – are notorious adherents to this mantra, and no matter how many mental gymnastics are played out, at the end of the day a dish will be more flavorful with fat than without. Similar to Yangzhou fried rice, in which the sweet and savory fat of lap cheong is slowly coaxed out under low heat and used to fry rice, rendered duck fat is the savory foundation for this fried rice.
This recipe is part of a larger series where I butcher a whole duck and cook different dishes inspired by its various components. For this fried rice, one of the duck breasts is deconstructed into its three constituents, the skin, the breast meat, and the fat, to make an extraordinarily decadent fried rice. The skin and breast meat are separated so that the skin can be further crisped while the breast meat remains at a medium rare, and the rendered fat is used to fry the rice. The resulting dish is a combination of tender slices of duck meat, thin strips of crispy skin, and fried rice so flavorful that it needs nothing more than salt, pepper, and a hint of shallot and soy sauce.
Although in theory this could be cooked as a single skillet meal, it is much easier to use one pan to cook the duck and one pan to fry the rice. The recommended work flow is to start the duck off in a cold pan, with skin on the bottom and breast on top, rendering the fat under medium heat. After 10-15 minutes, the breast meat is cooked to temperature and set aside. Rendered duck fat is then spooned into a wok or large skillet and used to sauté the shallots and stir-fry the rice while the skin continues to crisp in the first pan. When the breast meat has had a chance to rest, the skin is sufficiently crisped, and the rice has been tossed over high heat, the ingredients are then arranged together and garnished with julienned scallions. If available, skin cracklings from rendering other parts of the duck can also be used as a topping.
The underlying theme of this recipe is a celebration of the natural flavors and textures of duck. By preparing each component separately with meticulous care, we can enjoy a dish that has every aspect of good duck – perfectly cooked breast meat, fully crisped skin, and flavorful duck fat. Extraneous ingredients, such as egg, are intentionally omitted to minimize any distractions from these elements.
DECONSTRUCTED DUCK FRIED RICE // SKIN + BREAST + FAT
- 1 duck breast (recipe written for a breast cut from a 4 lb White Pekin duck)
- 4 cups of cooked white rice, preferably either day-old rice or freshly cooked using slightly less water
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 3-4 scallions, julienned
- 1-2 sprigs of parsley, finely minced (optional)
- 2-3 tbsp soy sauce
Prior to cooking, carefully remove the skin from the breast by making small, light strokes with a knife while applying traction to the skin with your other hand. You may also run your fingers along the surface of the meat to attempt to create a gap between the meat and the skin. For medical students or other health professionals, these are the same techniques of blunt dissection and fascia removal in cadaver examination.
To facilitate fat rendering and crisping, prick the duck skin all over with the tip of the knife and pat dry with a paper towel. In a cold cast iron or stainless steel skillet, place the skin facing down and the breast meat on top of it to prevent it from curling. Render the fat under medium heat for at least 15 minutes. At this point, the breast meat should be cooked to temperature, but this will depend a lot on the idiosyncrasies of your stove and skillet – the most robust method to check for doneness is a digital meat thermometer, with 130F for medium rare and 140-150F for medium – medium well.
Remove the breast meat and set aside to rest. The skin may have re-adhered to the breast while cooking. If this is the case, use a knife to gently detach the skin on a cutting board and return the skin to the pan.
At this point, use a spoon to transfer 2-3 tbsp of duck fat to a large skillet or wok. Under medium heat, sauté sliced shallots for 2-3 minutes until aromatic. Increase the heat to high and stir-fry the cooked white rice, using two wooden spoons to toss the rice and break up any clumps. Season with salt, pepper, and soy sauce to taste, lower the heat, and set aside. These steps can be done after the breast is removed or earlier at any point during the render when enough fat is available for cooking.
When the skin is crisped, the rice is tossed and seasoned, and the breast meat is rested, slice the breast and skin into thin strips and arrange over the rice. Garnish with julienned scallions and minced parsley (optional), and serve immediately.
It is also possible to cook the duck meat sous vide for 2 hours at 131F, which avoids the uncertainties of stovetop cooking and is ideal in this case because you are separately rendering the fat from the skin (a difficult task with typical sous vide temperatures). Stefan’s Gourmet Blog has a great set of instructions with step-by-step photos for this variation on the recipe.