Duck!

It is best to eat a variety of fowl–chicken, turkey, Cornish game hens and domesticated duck–and to vary your source of animal protein between poultry, fish, game and red meat [to avoid developing allergies]….

…dark meat contains more minerals than white. And speaking of dark meat, do take advantage of domestic farm-raised duck now becoming more available in our markets….

Duck fat is highly prized in France for cooking potatoes; and in Scandinavia where it is spread like butter on dark bread to make delicious sandwiches. It is high in stable oleic acid and rich in fat-soluble vitamins.

Nourishing Traditions

A few weeks ago I bought a duck from the farmer’s market. Sort of a planned impulse buy (I saw it the week before then planned to get it the following week when I had more money). It was a splurge: Duck is closer in price to a nice steak than a fryer chicken.

I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to mess it up, and even if I did it perfectly, I didn’t even know if I liked duck! I was going to roast it, and collect the drippings to use for frying potatoes or otherwise, but there was no roasting recipe in Nourishing Traditions and after vacillating between the book and roasting recipes from the web, I decided to just follow the book. In doing so, I knocked down six traditional recipes! Whoot!

1. “Preparation of whole duck” on page 295. Yes, there is a recipe just for how to cut up the duck. The book doesn’t recommend cooking it whole, don’t ask me why.

What I started with.

I had to make certain cuts here and there, then ended up cutting off the breasts and the legs, reserving pieces of fat for the rendering recipe and everything else for broth. (I couldn’t help but feel a little like I was Julia Child in France learning to cook as I did this.)

Look how dark the meat is!

2. “Duck fat and cracklings” on page 295. I put the pieces of fat in a pan and rendered the fat into a fantastic cooking oil, and the rest turned into “cracklings,” little crispy pieces of fat. I set these aside to try on a salad, but kept forgetting I had them. They’re still in my fridge but may not be good anymore.

3. “Duck with plum sauce” on page 297. I chose to do only the breasts for this recipe and reserved the legs for “preserved duck legs.” I found this recipe easy enough, although I messed up a little on the sauce, forgetting to put arrowroot powder in at the right time. The breasts are cooked rare, which is exciting for me, because I love rare meats–but only those that are normally cooked rare. It’s the closest to raw I can get right now. The breasts resembled steak a bit to me, and I thought it tasted like a cross between chicken and beef. My little boy is normally anti-poultry, but he liked it. He wasn’t a fan of the sauce, but I thought it was fine. My husband, however, after finishing his breast, said I did a good job, but that he just doesn’t care for duck. I was slightly annoyed because I would have happily eaten his breast for him!

Duck breast with plum sauce, potatoes and onions sauteed in duck fat, and green beans sauteed in bacon fat.

Just so you know, this duck was three pounds. I am used to getting 4-5 pound chickens, and their breasts are like twice the size as the ducks. The legs are much bigger, too. I know three pounds is less than four or five, but seriously, where was all the meat?? Maybe it’s just more dense? I don’t know, but it hardly seemed worth the price I paid for it. Thank goodness I was able to utilize the fat and bones.

4. “Sautéed Potatoes and Onions” on page 397. This was yum, but a bit of a pain. The potatoes are first parboiled for 10 minutes, then cooled and sliced. Then the potatoes and onions are cooked separately in duck fat. Yes, that is more dishes, more work. Apparently these two steps are the “secrets” to the recipe, though. It worked out–they were delish, but man did it take forever to get dinner on the table.

5. “Preserved duck legs” on page 298. This recipe both excited and scared me. First you marinate the legs, then you stick them in a jar and pour liquid rendered fat over them. I didn’t have much duck fat left after cooking the potatoes with it, so I had to use up nearly all the bacon drippings I had on hand. Luckily I had been saving since before I started cooking with lard, so I had some extra on hand. I filled the jar to the brim, ensuring the legs were well-covered (since it’s the fat the preserves the meat).

Lemon juice, herbs, garlic, course grain sea salt for marinade.

I left them in the fridge for about two and a half weeks, waiting for an opportunity to eat them (I wasn’t going to serve these for dinner, since my husband wasn’t going to eat it, and I don’t often cook up meat for lunch). Finally, I went for it. First I had to slowly melt the fat by putting the jar in a pan of hot water. Once the lard was liquified, I poured it out (and saved it for future use) and put the legs in a hot pan to sauté them.

Preserved in lard.
They sure look yum, don't they?

This is where it gets really sad. I overlooked the part of the recipe that says to “gently” saute them, and I over-cooked them. Not only were they really tough, but super salty (I am thinking I wasn’t supposed to leave the marinade on them?). I tried to pick out some meat near the bone, but it was all bad. I had to throw them away. 😦 😦 😦

6. “Duck stock” variation from chicken stock recipe on page 124. This was easy. I just put the leftover carcass in a pot with a splash of vinegar, let it sit for an hour then simmered for many many hours. It’s nestled snug in my freezer right now, so I can’t tell you what it tastes like, unfortunately. I can tell you, though, that it has a lighter, yellower color than my chicken stock.

It’ll be a while before I brave duck again, mostly because of the cost. I’d rather spend that kind of money on a couple of nice steaks. But hey, it was fun, and who knows, maybe one day we’ll raise ducks or hubby will go duck hunting and I’ll actually know how to prepare a duck! (You never know!)

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Cassie says:

    I hope to try duck again someday and like it.
    Bummer about the legs. But so cook you tried and now know how to cook a duck!!

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