Adieu, chicken. Well, hello, duck.
This domesticated waterfowl steps in as a classy alternative to the regular fare just when everyone is tired of chicken and cutting back on beef.
The pros insist that duck isn’t all that difficult to cook at home, although you may be doubtful. And you can produce restaurant-quality performance without too much of a flap.
Rob Hurrie, the chef-owner of Margaux Bistro and Wine Bar in Sheboygan, is one man leading the way to a perfectly cooked duck.
“People avoid duck because they just don’t know what to do with it,” he said.
At the Kohler Wine & Food Experience, which runs from Oct. 18-21, his cooking demonstration – “What the Duck” – will take place. The demonstration is on Oct. 20 and will explain the best techniques for cooking, as well as how to break down an entire duck.
It is troublesome to cook a whole bird, he says, because duck breasts cook quickly, while it takes much longer for the thighs and legs.
The difference is greater than for chicken, whose legs from the get-go are fairly tender. It makes sense, then, to pan sauté duck breasts easily, however, according to Hurrie, to braise the thighs.
So he suggests chopping up a whole duck or simply purchasing the components separately.
The trendiest home cooks may want to try their hand at confit, where the meat is cooked in rendered fat very slowly.
“Originally confit was a preserving method,” said Hurrie. “But it has turned into a cooking method.”
You might experience duck confit on pizza at Margaux, or as part of a crepe stuffing.
Pricier, still wealthy-wealthy
Hank Shaw, a food blogger nominated by James Beard, is another guy who paddles away from roasting the whole duck easily. Ten Speed Press is expected to publish his upcoming novel, ‘Duck, the Cookbook,’ in 2013. It will protect both wild and domestic ducks.
He works, hunts and cooks in California at the moment, but was proud to announce that he went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate school. His website and blog is called Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.
Duck breast is best cooked until the internal temperature is around 135 to 140 degrees, as described by Shaw, while the legs need to reach 165 to 175 degrees.
“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “Think of duck as beef – the breast cooks like steak and the legs cook like brisket.”
He cited many factors, questioning why duck is more expensive than chicken.
Ducks are not growing as fast as chickens,”Ducks don’t grow as fast as chickens,”There is also an economy of scale, with chickens having big operations.”Also, there is an economy of scale, with large operations for chickens.”
“Also, because the bone and fat is heavier in a duck than a chicken, a 5-pound duck will only serve two, maybe three people,”Also, since the bone and fat in a duck is heavier than a chicken, a 5-pound duck serves only two, maybe three people.
It’s just going to make you squawk to buy breast meat, which can go as high as $17 a pound. But the meat and skin are so rich that you can get away with serving less than you can with leaner chicken.
A breed known as Pekin or White Pekin, which is also called Long Island duck, is nearly all the duck you can see in restaurants and grocery stores.
Pekin is identified by Shaw as having a mild flavour, while Muscovy duck has a richer “duckier” flavour, which he prefers.
In Brookfield, Grasch Foods carries Pekin, as well as the more expensive Muscovy. Maple Leaf Farm, a leading Indiana-based duck manufacturer, has a website that addresses just about every question you may have about duck cooking. You’ll also find recipes, as well as videos of techniques that show how to roast a whole duck, for example, and how to cut one up. Here’s the customer information.
You could be bagging your duck in the woods, instead of in the grocery store.
Hank Shaw is your go-to guy for advice if you cook wild, rather than domestic birds. An avid hunter, he says he cooks 300 birds a year, from snipe to giant turkeys.
Shaw has data, observations and recipes for all things wild, including duck, geese, rabbits, venison and bear, on his James Beard-nominated wild food blog and website – Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.
You will also be able to find videos of how to pluck a duck or cut a game bird.
Here’s how to make it for duck fat a chef would love,
Duck fat melts many chefs’ hearts.
From sautéing potatoes to making confit, they use it for anything in which the meat is ever so slowly cooked in the fat.
Some people also allude to potential health benefits, mentioning the saturated fat to unsaturated fat ratio, which seems to be a little closer to olive oil than to butter.
But it’s not that fast, according to Jennifer Kay Nelson, director of Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition at the Rochester, Minn., Mayo Clinic.
“Duck fat is an animal fat, and animal fat is higher in saturated fat than most plant fats,”Duck fat is animal fat and animal fat is higher in saturated fat than most plant fat.
“Duck fat also contains cholesterol, which plant fats don’t.”
Let’s not forget: “Fat is fat.” In calories, it’s huge.
“it’s OK once in a while – but I’d rather be consuming olive oil,” she said.
Once in a while, duck expert Hank Shaw discusses how to use an entire bird to make duck fat.
His technique gives you a “duck butter,” pure, unflavored, while fat made from a roasted bird also has burnt or foreign flavours.
Here’s how duck fat can be made:
Remove excess fat and skin flaps from cavity openings without cutting through meat. Cut fat and skin into 1-inch pieces. Place cut pieces with 1⁄2 inch of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium-low heat. As water gradually boils away, fat will be created. Once water boils away, allow brown pieces to make cracklings, seasoned with smoked paprika and salt, that he likes to eat.
Strain made fat into the measuring cup using cheesecloth or a paper towel. Store fat in Mason jars. It remains in the refrigerator for six months and in the freezer for much longer, he said.
Recipes for Duck
This recipe can be found in Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Café Cookbook” (Harper Collins, 1999, $34). The duck is salted ahead of time.
Duck Legs in Zinfandel Braised
Create 4 to 6 servings with
6 legs of duck (drumsticks and thighs, attached)
- Salt and, to taste, pepper
- 1 tablespoon of made fat from duck or olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 1 leaf of bay
- 2 thyme sprigs
- Garlic 2 cloves, peeled, sliced
- 1⁄2 Tiny Orange Zest
- 1 cup of Zinfandel or another red wine of decent quality
- 1 1⁄2 cups hot stock of chicken (about)
- 1⁄2 Teaspoon Starch of Potato
Trim the fat and skin from the sides of the legs of the duck, leaving the skin on top of the legs. Season with salt and pepper. For several hours or overnight, cover and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 450°C.
Put 1 tablespoon of duck fat or oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and sauté for 5 minutes, until lightly browned.
Spread cooked vegetables in the deep earthenware baking dish at the bottom. Add bay, thyme, garlic, orange zest and wine. Arrange duck legs in one layer on top, down the skin side. To barely cover them, add hot stock.
Seal thoroughly with foil and cook 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated oven, before the stock starts to boil gently. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees and proceed to cook 30 minutes, covered.
Remove foil, turn up the skin side of the legs and cook for another 30 minutes uncovered, or until the skin is crisp and golden. Test with a small knife to check meat for doneness. If it provides no resistance and easily separates from bone, it is cooked.
Remove legs from baking dish carefully. In a saucepan, pour braising juices and vegetables and skim off fat. Reduce sauce to taste over medium heat. Thicken slightly with 1⁄2 teaspoon potato starch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water if needed. Reheat duck legs in sauce 5 to 6 minutes just before serving.
“This recipe is from Christine Hanna’s “The Winemaker Cooks” with photographs by Sheri Giblin (Chronicle Books, 2010, $35). Note that the duck breasts are rubbed with a rub ahead of time, from one hour to overnight, so you can prepare accordingly. Serve it with French Lentil Prosciutto and Pepper Salad.
Pan-Seared Duck Breast Five-Spice with Balsamic Jus
Create 4 to 6 servings with
1 big clove of garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of ginger peeled and freshly grated
2 five-spice powder teaspoons
1 salt teaspoon
1⁄2 of a teaspoon of pepper
4 single breasts for duck
1 tablespoon of olive oil extra virgin
1/3 cup of red wine dry
Balsamic vinegar for 2 teaspoons
Combine garlic, ginger, five-spice powder, salt and pepper in a large, heavy plastic self-sealing container. Add duck breasts, seal and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Remove from the fridge 1 hour before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees when ready to cook. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large oven-proof sauté pan until it shimmers.
Remove the marinade and discard marinade from the duck breasts. Sear the breasts in hot oil, down the skin side, 5 minutes, or until the skin is well browned. Turn and sear on the other side for another 5 minutes. For medium-rare or to desired doneness, transfer the pan to the preheated oven and roast for 5 minutes. Transfer the duck breasts to a plate and keep warm.
Pour out fat from the pan to produce a balsamic juice. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add wine. Cook, stirring, from the bottom of the pan to scrape up browned pieces. Reduce by half, be careful not to evaporate all the wine. Add balsamic vinegar and cook for several more minutes to reduce.
Break diagonal slices of duck breasts and serve drizzled with balsamic juice.
Note: Act as an accompaniment to French Lentil, Prosciutto and Pepper Salad.
This recipe is from Christine Hanna’s “The Winemaker Cooks” with photographs by Sheri Giblin (Chronicle Books, 2010, $35).
French Lentil, Prosciutto and Salad with Pepper
Makes servings of 6 to 8
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup of olive oil extra virgin (divided)
6 slices of paper-thin prosciutto di Parma, finely chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup of carrots finely diced
1⁄2 cup red bell pepper finely diced
2 cups of dried, rinsed and drained French lentils