I should begin with a clarification: In no way should the title's "promiscuous berry sauce" be taken as a condemnation of the moral character of Bide-A-Wee's berries, which are just as forthright and upstanding as any berries could be, I assure you. Nor does it refer specifically to the sauce, which, though saucy, as is to be expected, was likewise found to be of sterling character, admirable in every respect.
Instead, the adjective describes the forage that resulted in the sauce (but not the foragers, indeed not...). The Random House dictionary (in an online form)gives these definitions of promiscuous:
–adjective 1. characterized by or involving indiscriminate mingling or association, esp. having sexual relations with a number of partners on a casual basis.
2. consisting of parts, elements, or individuals of different kinds brought together without order.
3. indiscriminate; without discrimination.
4. casual; irregular; haphazard.
1. unchaste. 2. hodgepodge, confused, mixed, jumbled. See miscellaneous. 3. careless.
Here we're taking defintions two through four as our guide, and #2 in the synonyms list. On one of our first days out at our Wisconsin land during a recent baking break, we took a walk, and on our walk we took a basket. Casually, without discrimination, we gathered what berries we found along the way. It's late in the year for our raspberries, but we found a few of both the black and the red. The gooseberries, which in their hard green form taste unpalatably sour, yet make a tasty fool, had begun to ripen, darken, and take on a slight dusky sweetness, not unlike black currants--a few of which we also found in an adjacent tangle.
And the first of the blackberries were just coming ripe. A couple of handfuls of those dark, juice-packed beauties rounded out the jewel-like bowl of berries that graced the Bide-A-Wee table at the end of the day.
We were in no hurry at all to turn the product of our promiscuous forage into anything more refined, whether jam, sauce, or syrup. The fragrance of the over-ripe raspberries did not fill our little cabin, but you would catch the scent of it when the breeze came your way, a fleeting, cheering sniff. And that hodgepodge of berries in the bowl, all the various colors, shapes and textures, glazed with the juice of a few berries that got squished at the bottom of the basket, was a delight to the eye every time we looked at it. Haphazard though it was, it couldn't have been more pleasing.
And, like all the joys of summer, and of the forager's world, be it a mayfly hatch, a fruiting of fungus, the moment of the berries' perfect ripeness, this pleasure was perfectly ephemeral. By the second day our lovely bowl of berries was practically begging to be puréed--indeed, some had started to take matters into their own hands (recognizing that berries don't exactly have, uh, hands...).
There's a time for everything, they say, and when it's time for dinner, and there's a duck on hand, and a bowl of berries ready for their next adventure, we know just what to do.
Grilled Duck with Berry Sauce
I feel this should be descriptive, rather than recipe-quantitative. This dish came about just as haphazardly as the berry forage. We had a whole duck, purchased at the Country Lane Farmers Market just north of Barron, Wisconsin. It was about a four-pounder, I think. I took it apart into its constituent parts--boneless breasts, separated legs and thighs, wings, carcass, skin. There's a use for every part of the duck, and I'll discuss more about what I do with them in my next post.
On a big fat duck like the ones that produce foie gras, the breast, or magret, is sometimes big enough to feed two, and I mean just one, single side of the breast. This duck was more of an Audrey Hepburn sort of duck, rather than a Dolly Parton type, so I decided to grill the thighs, as well (now I'm sorry I just gave you the mental image of Audrey Hepburn's thighs on the grill; try to focus on them pre-grilling, just resting lithe and elegant in a delicate marinade...).
From the carcass I made a stock--brown the chopped-up bones, add aromatic vegetables, herbs, water, simmer a good long while. But you could use chicken stock if you like. You'll need some good strong stock for the berry sauce.
The berries we just dumped in a saucepan, promiscuously, and we added a little water, brought it to a boil, and simmered until the berries gave up their individual identities, and now, no longer mixed, jumbled, or miscellaneous, came together as one, as a mystic surrenders ego to meld with the universal spirit in ineffable ecstasy.
And then we added sugar to taste. Not too much. We left it fairly tart, much less sweet than any jam you would buy, because I wanted that tartness to balance the rich stock, and the richness of the duck itself. But if you're using regular jam--blackberry, raspberry, or black currant (or a promiscuous melange!) all would be good--add an equal amount of dry red wine to your jam. I had meant to add wine to our sauce, but forgot, and I'm glad I did; it had more berry qualities without the wine.
Quantities: For two servings, reduce about a cup of unsalted stock to one-half cup. Add a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, then two tablespoons lightly sweetened berry purée, or 1 1/2 tablespoons jam and 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine. Simmer a couple of minutes, and at the end taste for salt, then swirl in a tablespoon or two of soft butter.
For the duck: I just seasoned it with salt and pepper and grilled it over hardwood coals. There's a lot of fat in duck skin, of course, but if you grill it over a moderate fire and turn frequently, you'll be okay. The thighs will take a couple of minutes longer, so while they finish just move the breasts to a warm part of the grill away from direct heat. When the skin is nicely crisp and evenly brown, the duck should be done. Moderate heat and frequent turning, I repeat, are the keys to successful duck grilling.
The result of successful duck grilling.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw