What’s so funny about a Duck?
Back in the 70’s, Roast Duck was a pretty common menu item in so called “Continental” restaurants. Almost without exception, it would be cooked to death (twice), and served “a l’Orange,” with a sort of pale, sticky sauce. There was usually a tired orange slice and half maraschino cherry perched on top of it. As corny as that was, it looked even worse without it. A nicely crisped skin was the indicator of success back in those days. Americans love crisp things. The duck itself was usually dry, stringy, and flavorless, but, if the skin was crisp, all was forgiven.
Even then, I wondered why it always had to be “a l’Orange,” but when I looked up recipes in classic cookbooks, the alternatives were even less appealing, calling for olives or bitter chocolate. We decided to just stick with the chicken base/orange juice/corn starch thing, and maybe put a little Grand Marnier in there, too.
It was usually called “Long Island Duck,” even though there is no such thing as a Long Island Duck. In actuality, Pekin (Peking) ducks were imported from China to Long Island in the 19th century, and became the breeding stock for a number of farms in the area. By the 1960’s, they were producing 7.5 million ducks annually, sold mostly to restaurants. Even now, there is a gigantic statue of a Duck commemorating the long association.
By the 1970’s, the environmental impact of runoff from the large poultry population contributed to a quick decline in the number of farms. It was just about then that the public lost interest in the dish as well, and restaurant duck went into hiding, along with canneloni and escargot.
Ducks needed a makeover.
Eventually, people forgot how awful Duck a l’Orange was, and by the late 80’s chefs were eager to serve something other than the similarly exhausted Coq au Vin. We started experimenting with different breeds and philosophies. Pekins are very prolific, but there’s a lot more skin than there is meat. I raised ducks for a little while way back when, and we had Pekins, Mallards, and Muscovies. Muscovies sounded appealing because we were told that they didn’t quack, and they don’t. The ducklings have a cute peep, which morphs into a more breathy hiss as they mature.
What nobody told us was that Muscovies, despite their silence, still manage to be just about the most obnoxious animal in the barnyard. They are much larger than ducks, almost goose sized, and they are very territorial and aggressive. They will bully your dog, and you too, if they feel the impulse. Their bills are easy enough to dodge, but the claws on their webbed feet are sharp. They also love to fly, like, right into your face. We would clip their wings, but they would still manage to get airborne and harass the neighbors.
Muscovies do have a redeeming quality, though. If you cross breed them with Pekins, you get a Magret, which is a large duck with a lot of meat. Totally different from the Pekins of the 70’s, Magret is so good, they can charge a lot more for it than just your basic Pekin.
Maybe Magrets are just as pesky as Muscovies, I don’t know. If they are, I can fully understand the premium price. As long as it’s not me who has to raise them. I took great pleasure in executing them, back then. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either. Hence the term “Dead Duck.” Their livers are awesome too, we’ll get to that later.
What rhymes with Goose?
- Magret duck breast, approx. 18 oz./500g
- Neutral stock, 1 cup/225ml
- Savory cranberry paste (recipe here)
- Butter, 3 oz./90g
- Hinode rice, .5 cup/120ml
- Field greens, 1 0z./28g
- Sous vide carrots, 1 ea. diced.
- S+P, as needed.
- Here we are in the raw state. I never saw anything like that in the 70’s.
- You don’t HAVE to use a rack, but I’ve fallen in love with the convenience of them.
- You can lower a filled rack into your tank, and lift them out, and lower them into ice water, and then stage into the refrigerator if you have that kind of room.
- If there IS a leak, you find out right away, because of the increased visibility.
- 129F/54CX6 hours.
- Shock down to 70F/21C before you refrigerate.
- Dry well.
- Ready to be scored.
- Well seasoned with S+P, and a little dried parsley.
- You can just barely see the score marks, they’re demonstrated in the video.
- I put a tiny drop of oil in to a 275F/135C pan, but only to make sure.
- As long as the heat isn’t over 325F/163C, it won’t stick.
- If it pops like corn, turn it down.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Let’s make rice.
- Yup, that’s rice all right.
- This is hinode rice which is a short grain rice grown in California.
- They say it’s sushi rice, but it’s not. It’s similar, but it’s not the same as Nashiki.
- Any rice will do.
- The basic formula is 2 parts H20 to 1 part rice, sooooo….
- That should make it very clear.
- Hot, cold, tap, whatever.
- Bring to a full boil, you can stir just a little at this point, but it’s not necessary.
- Reduce heat to low, and do not peek.
- Come back in 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, get a carrot.
- Nice knife.
- Dice the carrot.
- Again, cool knife.
- I used butter lettuce this time, Field Greens last time. All good.
- Machete the lettuce, put the butter on there so you don’t forget.
- No visible water, no bubbling.
- Add the carrots and the butter. I think that’s called a knob.
- Add the lettuce.
- It looks like a lot.
- It’s not.
- Stir lightly with a fork, and the lettuce will shrink.
- Bada bing, put the lid on, it will stay warm.
Okay, back to our game.
- If you watch the edges, you can detect the browning.
- As fat accumulates in the pan, remove it and save it for frying potatoes, etc.
- If you let it pool in the pan, it may burn.
- We wouldn’t want that.
- That’s the thing.
- That’s what you want.
Make the sauce now.
- Watch the video again. and skip ahead to the sauce part.
- Remove the duck from the pan.
- Add the stock, reduce slightly.
- Add the cranberry paste.
- Return to boil.
- Add 2 oz. cold butter.
- When the butter melts, the sauce is done.
- If the butter exits the sauce, YOU’RE done.
- Not really, that’s just my little joke.
- Just add a little water and it will come back.
Do the thing with the rice.
- Or, just put some on the plate.
- Put the sauce on the open area.
- Slice the duck as thin as possible, be careful.
- Torch it if you like it well done.
- If you return it to the pan, it will skooch up and get tough.
- Same with the microwave.
- Next time, just fry it longer.
- This is how I like it.
- Remember, it’s pasteurized, via SV.
- There’s no shame in well done.
- Watch the video again, dig the music.