Duckapalooza: Part 1

I love duck. To me a duck is a bit like a pig with wings; the meat is incredibly versatile, delicious beyond belief, and every single morsel is usable. In Anthony Bourdain's most recent book, Medium Raw, he talks about how chefs love to play the "Last Meal Game". My last meal would be crisply-fried duck confit with a side of pommes sarladaises (duck fat-fried potatoes tossed with chopped garlic and fresh parsley).

It's very simple to make duck confit with duck leg and thigh portions and purchased duck fat but it's so much cheaper to buy whole ducks and cut them up yourself. The bonus is a freezer-full of the bonus ducky delights that you get from the extra parts: smoked duck breasts, duck liver pate, barbecued wings and necks, gallons of stock, duck fat for cooking, and crackling for munching.

Once or twice a year I buy four ducks and go into a two-day duck-cooking frenzy. This year my friends David and Steve offered to help out. We bought six ducks and set aside a weekend in January for our duck fest.

If you've never cut up a duck before it can seem like a daunting task but there are videos on the Internet giving simple step-by-step instructions. The most difficult part of this process is having the confidence to make the first cut. You can't really screw up - a few wonky cuts won't prevent your duck from being the best thing you've ever eaten.

The first thing you do after you have butchered the ducks is remove any excess fat and skin from inside the carcass and along the back. Cut the skin into small pieces, place them in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a half a cup of water and place over low heat. It will take an hour or two to render the fat and turn the skin, now called cracklings, a deep golden brown. Watch it carefully near the end as it can burn easily.

Strain the fat into a clean container and place the duck cracklings onto paper towel to drain. Salt them while they are still warm. Eat the cracklings as a snack or sprinkle them on salads in place of croutons.

The next order of business is to start the duck stock. Place the carcasses and wing tips in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and carefully remove all the scum from the surface and discard. Add chopped onions, carrots, and celery (I use the proportion of 2-1-1), a bay leaf, a pinch of dried thyme, 10 black peppercorns and a teaspoon of salt (this helps to pull the flavours from the vegetables - do not add more at this point). Simmer uncovered for 4-5 hours. Strain and discard the bones and vegetables (or do what I do: fish out the carcasses, place them on a plate to cool, grab a shaker of salt and suck the meat from the bones). Pour the stock into a metal bowl, place it in the sink and fill the sink with cold water. Stir the stock occasionally and when it cools to room temperature place it in the fridge to cool completely. The next day remove any fat from the surface and pour the stock into freezer containers. The flavour is fairly neutral so it can be used for both poultry and meat dishes.

Once the stock is happily bubbling away, I season the necks and wings with a dry rub from Bruce Aidell's Tuscan rib recipe. I cook them for 2 - 3 hours on my Big Green Egg barbecue but it works almost as well to tenderize them first in the oven in a covered pot with a small amount of water and then finish them on a regular barbecue.

At this point you have a choice; you can turn the legs, thighs, and breasts into confit or the breasts can be transformed into duck ham. I'll cover the methods and recipes for both of these in Part 2 of the post.

The final dish of the day was the duck liver pate. For years my favourite recipe was one I found in The Joy of Cooking that contained apples and plenty of butter, but I recently discovered an even better version from Jacques Pepin that uses all duck fat. The method is simplicity itself: saute the livers with shallots and garlic in some duck fat, blend until smooth in the food processor with more duck fat, and season with cognac, herbes de provence and plenty of salt and pepper. Not exactly foie gras but not "chopped liver" either.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Duck Confit and Ham


chris.glass55 said...

I'm hungry!! I can smell it!! Can't wait for part 2..:):)
Love, Chris

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