Monday, September 24, 2012

Anniversary Duck

Mary and I were married on September 21, 1991, a decidedly autumnal day,  in the front yard of her mom and step-dad's house on the east river road in Minneapolis.  So our 21st anniversary--which is, what?, sort of a numerological golden anniversary?--came around this past Friday.  Contingencies of our schedules and a hurried harvest to get three wheelbarrows-full of squash out of the cold before a really hard frost meant that we didn't sit down to a properly celebratory dinner until last night.  We grilled a duck, and served it with celery root-potato purée, and chanterelles and greens (turnip and kale) cooked down in the duck's pan juices; and it was splendid.

The duck was from Bar 5 at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, and it was the perfect size for two avid duck eaters.  I cut the duck up, yep, cut the duck up into leg-thigh portions and the whole breast on the bone.  Wings and carcass were chopped and went to making duck stock.  The excess skin I sliced and put in a baking dish with water to cover, and that went into the oven to render out fat while I was cooking down a roaster pan full of oven tomatoes to freeze.

About grilling duck:  Duck being among the fattiest of meats, to grill it with that luscious skin on presents certain challenges.  Basically, you have to act as a human rotisserie:  you can never leave the grill, and as The Byrds implored us, you must turn, turn, turn.  Just a few seconds' inattention can result in a vicious flare-up that will ruin your beautiful bird.  You want a medium-hot fire for this, a good deal cooler than you would use to cook a steak or chop that only needs four or five minutes on a side, but you need a good bed of coals, too, for the duck is going to be on there for, oh, a good 15 to 20 minutes, I'd say.  I wasn't timing it; meat cookery is all about looking, touching, smelling, very little about numbers, especially when grilling.

Use the duck to prop itself up in the various postures required to brown it evenly and deeply, all around.  It won't be quite done at this point, so we use the "iron on the fire" trick of bunging it in a cast-iron skillet to finish cooking.  As I've said before, this has the added benefit of creating pan juices in which to cook the mushrooms and greens (this was such a marvelous meal, I'm getting nostalgic thinking about it, even though we ate it just last night...).

And now about those chanterelles:  I've had them in the spare fridge downstairs for two months!  I had practically forgotten about them, and then when I remembered them, I was afraid to look, fearing they would be a deliquescent pool of fungal glop.  No, indeed!  I was stunned to see what excellent condition they were in.  You could have shipped them off to market, and no one would have been the wiser (which makes me think that the chanterelles I've seen in markets in France and the Pacific northwest might indeed have been around the block a few times).  Once they warmed up they even recovered a good deal of their haunting aroma.  Fabulous.

I had two fires going to facilitate the start and the finish cooking, but by the time the duck was well browned, dark had come down, and with it a piercing chill, so we moved operations inside.  All that good, smoky grill flavor came in with the duck, anyway.  In a low oven (275, I think) we cooked the duck and chanterelles together for a while, and then removed the 'shrooms and breast, added a mess of kale and turnip greens, a ladle of rich duck stock.  The greens and legs cooked together for around 15 minutes.  Then I cranked the heat up to 425, returned the breast and chanterelles to the pan, and roasted it until the duck skin was sizzling again, and the pan juices had reduced.  After serving it all out onto plates I deglazed the pan with more stock, a splash of the wine ('08 Gigondas) we were drinking with dinner, and a wee pat of butter.

The duck was superb, and I give most of the credit for that to the bird itself, though I did do a good job cooking it.  The leg meat came off the bone almost like confit; the breast, though cooked well past the rosé stage I would look for in a magret, was also tender and flavorful.  The skin was a treat, crisp and a bit chewy, well rendered of fat.  A lot of fancy French chefs say that their philosophy of cooking is based on how their mothers and grandmothers cooked--cuisine de maman--though if you looked at their elaborate plates, you'd be hard pressed to guess that.  This dinner reminded us of that approach (it's not that we only have one mind between us, but we both expressed the same thought).  While this was not a meal of Michelin-level fussiness, it did represent a preparation that elevated humble ingredients to an ethereal height.

Duck, chanterelles, humble ingredients?  Well, yes.  In many parts of the world duck is more common, and much cheaper, than chicken, and the chanterelles, well, they're just some grubby fungi I found on the dirty forest floor.  Pot greens?  Doesn't get much humbler than that.  Many people would turn their noses up at food like this; yes, I know, you're not those people, not at all.

So, it was a happy anniversary to us.  And that celery root-potato purée?  Every time I make it, we swoon.  The recipe may be here in the blog somewhere, but it's definitely in the book, and worth the $27.95 all on its own.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw


el said...

Happy anniversary! What a great treatment to the duck: when I saw just the photo of the grill I thought "what a pity all those drippings burning away" but realized you had lots more sense than that.

Ducks are easy keepers but not so easy to pluck, alas. Considering I and one friend are the only folks who will eat them that I know (potatoes in the fat don't count) I am reconsidering adding them back in the repertoire next year. Depending on the breed too they grow superridiculouslyfast.

Anyway, slainte!

Charles Leck said...

Wonderful! I'll try it. Duck is one of my favorites, but I've had a hard time learning how to cook it myself. This may help. We miss seeing you and the market season is almost over. Hope you are both well. Happy anniversary!

Trout Caviar said...

Thanks, El. I've sort of become addicted to the grill, in part because our electric range is not my favorite ever cooking appliance, in part because I just really like building fires, and cooking on them. Then finishing meats in the skillet takes it to another level.

Hi Charlie: Great to hear from you. The market year is indeed winding down. Hope it was a good one for you and Ann. There's a lot we miss about the market, too--though standing in the freezing parking lot on chilly October mornings is not one of them!

Because of all that fat, duck is hard to overcook, and you definitely don't want the legs underdone. I wish duck was easier to come by, as it's right up there with my favorite meats. Maybe I'll have to go El's route and raise my own.

All best~ Brett

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

Happy Belated anniversary indeed - Keith & I got married the same year as you & Mary. What a wonderful first of the fall feast you concocted! I love duck myself, but finding local duck is quite the challenge as I have been told multiples time (and as El's comment above also confirms), they are hard to pluck!

Trout Caviar said...

Thank you, Sylvie--and a happy 21st to you and Keith, whenever that was/is. I'm very happy to live in the country now, but not TOO far from the city and its excellent markets and co-ops. I hope we'll see some food hubs developing out here in the countryside, though currently more things seem to be closing around here than opening.

Best~ Brett