Lessons from my First Duck
Duck has been my favorite food since I was a child. Before I was in school, I was asking my mom if we could go get either Peking duck or roast duck. I had rather atypical tastes as a child. For this reason, I have had a fear of cooking ducks. I was afraid that I would ruin them and wouldn't be able to forgive myself for ruining something so delicious. I've undertaken some pretty intense home cooking projects, like my summer of jams (which I don't recommend when it's 103 degrees), homemade pasta and ravioli, and my sourdough croissants. This year, I decided that I would conquer my fear of cooking my favorite food: duck.
I used a recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook. I did everything wrong. The recipe involved roasting a whole duck, carving the breast, and serving this breast over a salad of green beans. After being a little confused as to the small amount of breast meat on the duck I had roasted, I realized that I had cooked the duck breast side down, and had actually made the salad with the back meat. Even though I wasn't crazy about the salad, I realized that cooking duck is the same as cooking any other high quality piece of meat. Cooking meat isn't about being a good cook. Cooking meat is about not fucking up something that is inherently delicious. Even though I had roasted the duck upside down and only seasoned with salt and pepper, it was still a delicious piece of meat because I had not worked nearly hard enough to fuck up the inherent deliciousness of duck meat.
I also referenced Duck, Duck, Goose to make rendered duck fat, and I saved the pan drippings. Hank Shaw is right. Duck fat is God's gift to potatoes. Plus, I already knew that I liked cracklings. My grandfather's sister owned a butcher shop and used to make me cracklings out of all of the non-pig animals because no one would buy them, and I loved eating them so much. But I didn't know that cracklings are the by product of rendering fat. Homemade duck cracklings? I feel like I wasted the first 27 years of my life by not eating homemade duck cracklings.
Another thing I learned that has changed my culinary life is that duck stock makes way better beans than chicken stock or beef stock. I've been making lentils with onions caramelized in duck fat, mushrooms, and duck stock. I realized that I just don't like lentils that aren't cooked with meat juices, and duck juices are PERFECT!
*Disclaimer: I may feel this way because I have loved eating ducks longer than I have loved eating pizza. You may not feel the same way about beans cooked in duck juice.
Now after a few more ducks under my belt, I feel much more comfortable cooking one of my favorite meats at home. Ducks are super expensive in restaurants, and I don't even get to keep the liver to make pate or make stock or keep the fat for potatoes and beans. In hindsight, I don't know why I waited so long.