The Joy of Duck
Guess what we had for dinner tonight. Will someone please tell me what they've done to this bird? I'm imagining CIA interrogators at one of our Eastern European prisons (one of the ones that doesn't exist) : Tell us al Qaeda's next target. Quack! Dimitri -- use the nipple electrodes. Quaaaack! Yes, I know ducks don't have nipples. You know what I love best about duck? Whatever chicken does, duck can do better. Whether you're talking breast meat, liver, fat, skin, or stock, duck rules. A while ago, I promised I'd share my secret for killer chopped chicken liver. This is most certainly not the Jewish version of the dish -- it's based on the Commander's Palace recipe (one of my favorite cookbooks). Skip to the second *** if you don't give a damn about chopped chicken liver.
***Coarsely chop one large yellow onion and a bunch of garlic cloves (it's hard to use too many. If you simply must have a number, six. Or ten. That's a good number, too). Fry in 2 tablespoons of butter until golden. Rinse 1 1/2 pounds of chicken livers (if I could find enough duck livers, believe me, I'd use them) and pat dry. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add them to the onion/garlic mixture and fry over low heat until mostly done -- the livers will look pink if cut in half. This takes 8 to 10 minutes. The livers will give up a lot of juice. Push them to one side of the pan and let the juice reduce by half on the other. Now add a few grinds of nutmeg, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon of hot sauce. Transfer to a bowl. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of good quality brandy, beer, or tequila. Cook off the alcohol, then add the liquid to your livers. Chill thoroughly. Here's where I differ from Commander's Palace. They process their livers with TWO STICKS (1/2 pound) of butter. You'll end up with liver-flavored butter and, yes, that's as gross as it sounds. Instead, use the rendered fat from a roasted duck. This has a lower melting temperature than butter fat, so your chicken liver spread will be much lighter than the Commander's Palace version, and far tastier, too. I puree the mix in a food processor until smooth. Keep it well chilled; garnish with crispy duck skin, chopped chives, onions fried until brown, you name it. Listen: I've had foie gras at The French Laundry (more on that some other day). This chicken liver spread kicks foie gras right in its livery hiney.
***Great moments in cinematic poultry history: Remember chicken dinner at Henry's in-laws? I don't remember the movie well . . . something to do with too much Olde English 800 and certain other substances which would prevent me from ever becoming a candidate for the presidency . . . but there was this roast chicken, see? And as Henry cut into it, it began moving its legs and wings, and a black oily substance spilled out of its cavity. You knew I had to like this movie, didn't you?
***Don't tell me you can't prepare duck. What follows isn't the best technique, but it's almost foolproof. (What is the best technique? To optimize the skin, Peking Duck. Best duck breast: carve out the raw breast. Season with salt, pepper, and some finely chopped rosemary. Pan sear, serve rare. Oh man oh man oh man.) Rinse the cavity of the duck and pat dry. Put the duck into a plastic garbage bag along with one cup (or more) of good quality soy sauce and several slices of fresh ginger. You can add more stuff, but this works well as a simple marinade. Seal the garbage bag, trying to squeeze out as much air as possible. Put the bagged bird in a bowl (hey Daisy, like that line?) and stick it in the fridge overnight. Turn it at least once. Pat the bird dry. Prick the skin all over, especially in the fatty areas. Put the bird into a pot along with chopped celery, onion, and whatever other vegies strike your fancy. Root vegetables work well. Add water until the bird floats. Simmer, covered, for forty minutes. Make sure you simmer the neck & giblets, too, except for the liver, which would be overcooked by this technique. Remove the duck and allow it to cool for 30 minutes. (I forgot to do this today. It worked out okay, but the skin wasn't as crispy as I'd have liked.) Flip the bird (hah!) over -- breast side up. Put it on a rack in a casserole dish and roast it at 425F until crispy. You may want to put a layer of liquid in the casserole dish to catch the fat and reduce the overall mess. Cook to an internal temperature of 165F. SAVE THE FAT. So you don't want to make chopped chicken liver? Use duck fat in place of butter for any savory dish, and you'll have a phenomenal experience.
***Great moments in cinematic poultry history: That's Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart (1987), which is my favorite Rourke and my favorite De Niro movie. Detective Harry Angel is hired by ultra-creepy Louis Cyphre to locate 40s crooner Johnny Favourite. His investigations lead him to New Orleans, where he encounters mean dogs, the to-die-for Charlotte Rampling, an almost underage Lisa Bonet, and chickens. Harry's got a thing about chickens.
***My finest duck moments: Pan-seared duck breast at Hoppe's. I've gushed about this before (that link isn't work-safe; it's the one with the naked Tahitian girl popping out of the birthday cake). Pan-seared duck breast at Bill Weinberg's wedding. Hey, Bill -- if you google yourself (and I know you probably do that once a week) and find this post, come by some time and say hi. Peking Duck at Quan Jude in Southern California. The home restaurant in Beijing is world famous for Peking Duck, and just about any other duck dish you can imagine. Once, we had duck tongue aspic -- a genuine Trimalchio moment. No, we never ordered it again.
***That's it. I'm all ducked up. D.