January 23, 2013

The Duck Chronicles

A Whole Duck. And Then Some.

On a recent whim, we bought a whole duck. The results unfolded over many days, some more repeat-worthy than others. This (rather long!) post features some highlights from our multi-day, multi-meal duck experiment.

Butchering a Duck

The first order of proceedings was to butcher the duck. Andrei conquered this job with a high level of finesse for a rookie, should you require -- a visual from Jacob Burton over at Stella Culinary.

These scissors proved an indispensable tool for this task. We are still convinced this was our best wedding present & the most useful household item we currently own - highly recommend.

 Fried Duck Innards

This part is perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but proved a fun cooking diversion for Andrei. 

1 heart
1 liver
1 gizzard

1. cut a piece of duck fat from the cavity opening

2. render the duck fat over low heat until the pan is coated with fat

3. fry the innards in rendered duck fat until browned on all sides & cooked through

not for you? alternatively, you could use the duck liver to try a homemade duck liver pate.

Seared Duck Breast

Even if you are not working with a whole duck, seared duck breast makes for an easy & cheap dinner and tends to be more readily available in local grocery stores than you may imagine.

Unfortunately, this part of our duck adventure was admittedly the least successful. The seared breast turned out just fine, but the reduction sauce pairing was simply a mess. Untethered ambitions & misguided experimentation got the best of me in this round. Next time around, I will look to these inspiration sources here, here & here. Let me know if you have any more success than we did!

 Duck Confit
{original recipe from Secrets of Slow Cooking}

Confit is one of the oldest ways to preserve foodThe French have a particular reputation for this technique & duck confit features prominently in their traditional cassoulet. Confit of duck is most often prepared from the legs. The meat is salted & seasoned with herbs & slowly cooked submerged in its own rendered fat. 

This was truly delicious. So much so, that my bold ambitions to make rillettes, duck confit quesadillas & duck confit pasta gave way to eating this as a snack straightaway. The rich, juicy & dark meat perhaps feels extra rewarding after the 2+ day prep process.

1 shallot, minced
1/2 bunch fresh thyme sprigs, finely chopped
2 duck legs with thighs
2 cups rendered duck fat

1. sprinkle salt in a shallow glass or plastic container, followed by 1/2 of the shallots & 1/2 of the thyme. lay the duck legs fat side up in one layer over the salt mixture. then sprinkle more salt, and the remaining shallot & thyme over the legs. cover & refrigerate for up at least 1 day, up to 2 days. 

2. rinse off the duck legs & pat dry with paper towels (frankly, this part remains a wee confusing for me, but alas, can't argue with the results). place them in a slow cooker in one snug layer. pour in the fat to cover the duck legs.

note: rendering duck fat can be a lengthy process to yield enough to cover, you will want to take that into account, as we were a bit surprised by how long it took.

3. cover & cook on a low setting for 5-6 hours, until the meat can be easily pulled from the bones.

4. using tongs, remove the duck legs from the fat & take the meat off the bones.

5. the meat can be used right away or stored for future use. 

to store: put the meat in an airtight container & cover completely with fat. keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, making sure to recover the meat with fat after removing any for other uses.

Spinach Salad with 
Duck Confit, Sauteed Shallots, Mandarin Orange Segments, Chopped Hazelnuts & Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Before we finished all of the confit, I did manage to pull together this delicate, yet robust, brunch offering. This is a confident dish to present to crowds of any persuasion. Once the duck confit is prepared, all the hard work is behind you on this one.

1 shallot, diced
1 tsp olive oil
4 cups spinach
4 mandarin oranges, segmented
2 oz hazelnuts, crushed
1.5 tsp olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic mashed, preferably roasted 
.5 tsp strong mustard
salt & pepper, to taste
4 oz duck confit

1. lightly saute the shallot in olive oil, until the shallot begins to brown a bit

2. layer the spinach with the mandarin oranges & hazelnuts, gently fold in the cooked shallots

3. in a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard and salt & pepper, until you reach a uniform consistency & tiny bubbles form

4. toss the olive oil dressing with the spinach salad

5. serve the duck confit over the dressed spinach salad beds

note: i like to roast a head of garlic when i have the oven on for other uses - but garlic carries a big smell, so make sure it is something that can withstand the aroma of roasted garlic

Duck Stew

The carcass. You know this was coming, didn't you? Just when we thought the confit could not be surpassed, this happened. This is so simple that one may not think to serve at a dinner party, but perhaps that is the point -- the simpler, the better. 

duck carcass
12 brussels sprouts, halved or whole
1 vidalia onion, quartered
3 medium sized carrots, coarsely chopped
8 small red potatoes, halved or quartered
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp black peppercorns, ground
1/2 tsp white peppercorns, ground
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 tsp fenugreek powder (optional)
1/2 tsp coriander, ground
3 bay leaves
1/2 bottle of white wine
2 tbsp rice vinegar

1. line a good sized dutch oven pot with the duck carcass & arrange the brussels sprouts, onions, carrots,  potatoes & garlic around the duck. 

2. sprinkle the spices on top & pour white wine, vinegar & water to cover 

3. on stove top over low heat, simmer until the remaining meat is falling off the bones. it should be very fragrant & vegetables should be very soft. we cooked for at least an hour or so.

4. remove all bones, bay leaves & any whole spices.

5. enjoy!

note: any remaining liquid would make an excellent base for a risotto

 Duck Fat Brussels Sprouts

And last, but most certainly not least, the gift that keeps on giving - duck fat, making the entire endeavor worthwhile. Keep any leftover rendered fat in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should be soft enough to slice with a butter knife & can be used for a variety of purposes, including eggs. And potatoes. And vegetables. We served these brussels sprouts with a whole roasted chicken, which in retrospect feels a perverse mixing of poultry products...

1 inch cube duck fat
12 brussels sprouts, halved
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
salt & pepper, to taste

1. render the duck fat over low-medium heat in a non-stick pan

2. saute brussels sprouts, shallot & garlic in the duck fat until the leaves of the brussels sprouts begin to brown & curl a bit, they should be soft against the touch of a fork.

3. season with salt & pepper, to taste

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