Now that the Thanksgiving turkey’s long gone, it’s time to contemplate one of my other favorite table birds: duck.
By ANNE BROCKHOFF
Ducks were domesticated thousands of years ago, finding a happy place in cuisines as diverse as those of Mexico, China and Persia, according to Duck, Duck, Goose, the latest offering from food journalist Hank Shaw.
“Cooking a duck or goose—a whole bird, from bill to feet — is real cooking. True, honest cooking,” writes Shaw, whose Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog earned a James Beard Foundation award in 2013 and won the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Bert Greene Award in 2010 and 2011.
In Shaw’s book, ducks are roasted, barbecued, smoked, grilled, seared, braised, poached and sauced. There’s Chinese duck soup, duck jagerschnitzel, chili, gumbo, soup, risotto, tagine and curry. And let’s not forget the odd bits. Shaw grills duck hearts, makes corned gizzards, pates and sausages and turns unctuous duck fat into all manner of tasty things.
There’s even a recipe for crispy duck tongues, a version of which Shaw enjoyed at Extra Virgin while visiting Kansas City a couple years ago. They were so memorable that when Shaw returned to KC in November, he and chef-owner Michael Smith crafted a dinner and book signing at Smith’s eponymous restaurant.
The menu included house-cured duck prosciutto and cacciatore salumi, beef heart tartare, Japanese-style duck ramen soup and a pheasant and duck ragout. Smith explained various cooking techniques as Shaw moved from table to table, signing books and chatting with guests, including a handful of blog readers who’d driven hundreds of miles to meet the author in person.
Many of Shaw’s fans are, or aspire to be, hunters, and he’s as enthusiastic about wild ducks and geese as he is farm-raised birds. I unfortunately can’t say the same. I grew up eating the mallard and teal ducks my father brought home and have a distinct preference for the Pekins we now raise on our own farm.
It’s a familiar breed and the type you’re most likely to find at a farmers’ market or specialty grocer like Whole Foods or the Community Mercantile in Lawrence. A growing number of local farms are raising ducks now, too. The Kansas City Food Circle Directory lists several area producers. HoneyDel Farm will also have a very few available at the Holiday Farmers Market in Lawrence on Saturday, says owner Derek Felch.
Once you have your duck, you can again turn to Shaw’s book to learn how to handle it. Step-by-step instructions and photos detail how to break down a bird for cooking and how to carve a whole duck after roasting. There are also tips for making stock and making the most of the quantity of unctuous duck fat you’ll likely have left over. After reading all that, it won’t take you long to go from contemplating duck to cooking it.
A note on duck fat
Domesticated ducks typically carry a thick layer of fat, which is a good thing—a very good thing. That fat can be trimmed and rendered, or you can simply collect what comes out during the cooking. Hank Shaw calls duck fat “God’s gift to potatoes,” and it is indeed good for roasting spuds and other vegetables and for browning meat. Shaw’s Duck, Duck, Goose even includes recipes for duck fat Hollandaise sauce, aioli and pie crust.
Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com .