Domestic ducks and geese are the pigs of the air. They lay on thick layers of clean-tasting, delicious fat that is healthier for you than lard — and remember that fresh-rendered lard is healthier for you than butter. Other than fish fat, waterfowl fat is arguably the animal fat that is best for you; it is so low in saturated fat that it’s actually liquid at room temperature.
This holds true for both store-bought and wild birds. Wild, you say? Aren’t they super skinny? Sometimes. But I’ve shot fat ducks in Washington, Oregon, California, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota and Canada — so you never know.
The key is what they are eating. I am blessed with ducks and geese that winter in Northern California among the rice fields. It is not uncommon to see pintails or mallard with such a thick layer of white, rice-built fat that they look like little domestic ducks. I cook with it all year long. Corn-fed mallards will lay on more yellowish fat, and the birds shot out of the pea and barley fields of Canada are legendary. I’ve even shot obese wood ducks that had been eating acorns.
For the most part, you will want to render the fat from any domesticated duck or goose, plus any wild birds that are a) fat, and b) have been eating good things, as I outline above. Your best bets are, in order of preference: pintails, wood ducks, specklebelly geese, green-winged teal, mallards, canvasbacks, wigeon, gadwall and other birds. In general, avoid spoonies unless you are absolutely certain they’ve been eating rice.
Avoid all sea ducks and most divers. Canada geese can be OK, but I generally won’t render fat from them.
So where do you get this wondrous fat?
Mostly from the pope’s nose, the tail of the bird. You cut this off and clean it well — after all, it includes the animal’s poop chute — and then cut it into pieces. You will also find good stores of fat around the bird’s gizzard and at the base of the neck.
Also remember that if you are parting your birds out (and have plucked them), you can slice a lot of fatty skin off the duck’s back. And if the breast is pretty shot up? Pull the skin off and render that, then use the beat-up meat for burger. All in all there’s quite a bit of fat to be had if you know where to look.
Here is a quick video of the process we made:
Once you have your fatty bits, wash them all in cold water and cut them into smallish pieces with shears. Put them all into a frying pan set over medium heat. Add just enough water to cover the fatty bits. The fat will begin to render out immediately into the water, which, as the water boils, will evaporate — but not before rendering enough fat to allow the bits to continue rendering slowly without scorching.
Once the water boils away, drop the temperature to low and watch the fat, which will be yellow and milky. At some point, about 30 to 45 minutes later, the fat will turn clear. Now you’re ready.
Set up a strainer over a glass container to hold the fat in; I use pint Mason jars. Set a paper towel into the strainer and pour the contents of the pan into it. All the impurities will stay with the paper towel. When the fat is done dripping, about 15 minutes, pour the liquid gold into a container, cover it and keep it in the fridge. It will last a year there, and indefinitely in the freezer.