Thursday, August 11, 2011
Smokey the Duck
I've been on a mission to demystify smoking since the very beginning of Trout Caviar. I'm evangelical about it, in fact, ever since my lighbulbahaeurekacometojesus moment when I realized: "Hey, cavemen did this. Maybe I can, too." Now, it's nothing against cavemen (I gather they're sort of sensitive), and I'm quite certain I'd not survive an attempt to bring down a mastodon with crude weapons. I give them lots of credit for that. I can, however, salt meat and expose it to moderate heat and smoke. That's all home smoking entails, and it need not be an involved or mass-production type of undertaking.
Case in point, this hot-smoked duck breast I prepared out at Bide-A-Wee last weekend. While packing food for the cabin I took my duck breast and salted it generously, at least twice the salt I would use if I were cooking it right away. I added pepper, and sprinkled on some quatre épices. Then I rubbed a bit of maple syrup lovingly over both sides, and let the meat sit in a plastic bag for two days.
When I was ready to smoke it, I readied the elaborate smoking system we use out at the cabin. Built a fire so there were nice coals going, moved the coals to one side of the grill and added a piece of apple for aromatic smoke.
I laid the breast on the grate away from the heat.
Covered it with the custom-made "Bide-A-Wee Deluxe Smoke Catcher" (aka, the lid of a small portable grill).
Let it smoke a while. Maybe an hour.
You can imagine that we don't exactly have pinpoint control over the temperature in a set-up like this, and in fact this breast smoke-roasted a little hotter and faster than I would have hoped. But because of the cure of salt and maple syrup, the meat remained moist. It was also rich and smoky, nicely chewy, slightly gamy, exactly what I like about duck, maybe my favorite meat. At the end of the smoking/cooking, I cooked it skin-side-down over direct heat, to render some fat and crisp the skin a bit.
It did not hurt at all that the duck was served alongside a pile of very tasty rice mush: risotto with chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms. The hedgehogs, hydnum repandum, are interesting fungi, less common than chanterelles but fruiting at the same time (obviously). They are in fact related to chanterelles in realms of fungal classification, and have a similarly enchanting aroma, sweet, so they're sometimes called "sweet tooth" mushrooms. In either case, the common name refers to the spiky spore-producing structure this mushroom has where others have gills, which resemble the spines on those twee, beloved denizens of English hedgerows.
If you're fortunate enough to find hedgehogs, remember the spot. They come back quite reliably year to year.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw