To all my vegetarian and vegan friends, I love you, I feel you, and I get you. I too was a vegetarian for 10 years. Then I got pregnant and began craving steak — charred rare, thank you. (And Spaghettios…what, I ask, was up with that?)
Anyway, because I believe one should listen to what one’s body says, I’ve embraced my inner omnivore ever since. Most recently, I have developed a love of all things duck, even though Ferdinand is my second favorite character in Babe.
I first fell in love with duck as a busboy at Gianni’s, an upscale Italian restaurant in Austin back in the day. Whenever there was a mistake order of Duck a l’orange, I was first in line at the devouring station.
So, what do I love about duck? To quote the great Russell Hammond out of context in response to William Miller, “To begin with, everything.”
As in, how the skin crisps up and crunches like candy. How the rendered fat adds richness to whatever mundane thing you sauté in it. How it pairs so nicely with Chinese 5 spice powder, and fennel, and star anise, and hoisin, and chipotle, and cumin…
Now, you can roast it whole and have a perfectly delicious duck experience and call it a day. But, be forewarned, it’s a rather greasy affair requiring you to flip the bird mid-roast, and if you’re not careful, you could start a small kitchen fire, as I did my first time.
Don’t worry, I only lost the plastic utensils and cloth napkins in the drawer next to the oven. All is well. The metal and steel utensils survived and you can’t see the burnt wood when the drawer is shut.
But you can understand why I now prefer to play it safe and butcher my duck, cutting it into quarters. If you choose to go this route, be sure to save the bones and skin and fat that you trim away. You’ll be glad you did. I promise. Here’s why:
You can make a lovely broth with the bones. And you can make to-die-for potatoes with the rendered fat. But the real reason you want to render the fat is so you can eat the tasty cracklings.
My mother used to make them when roasting a chicken for our Sabbath dinner, though she referred to them by the Yiddish term, grievenes, AKA gribbenes. I’d steal the crunchy, succulent morsels straight from the pan. Perhaps this explains why I never developed a sweet tooth. My palate was sated before dessert was even a discussion.
The other benefit to butchering your bird is that you can enjoy multiple culinary delights throughout the week.
Slow-roasted wings with Korean barbecue sauce. Sautéed skinless boneless breasts with Hoisin served over grilled pineapple, peppers and onions. Duck Confit with herbed polenta or risotto. Duck nachos with feta and poblano peppers.
I could go on and on. But I won’t…so, without further ado, here is my 2015 version of the requisite New Year’s Day Good Luck dish. Not quite Hoppin’ John, and not quite a cassoulet, but you may like it nonetheless.
Happy New Year! May 2015 be delicious and ducky for us all. Wait, I didn’t really just say that, did I?
Black-Eyed Peas with Carrots and Parsnips, and, yes, you guessed it: Braised Duck
1. Preheat oven to 300°F degrees.
2. Cook your leg and thigh quarters in a large enough sauté pan to give each piece room to brown nicely on both sides. (About 4 to 5 minutes per side.) Remove duck to plate when skin is browned and pour off all but 2 Tbsp. oil.
3. Sauté diced carrot. parsnip and shallot with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in remaining duck oil, stirring in minced garlic, thyme and fennel near the end. (If needed you may add a spoonful of rendered duck fat leftover from the making of the greivenes), scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pan. Cook until vegetables soften and onions begin to turn golden.
4. Stir in 1/2 cup liquid (I used combination of white wine and homemade duck stock – you could use just stock, just wine, or even a nice Belgian beer) simmer for a few minutes to loosen any browned bits remaining on pot’s bottom.
5. Add cooked black-eyed peas, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste; stir well to combine with vegetables. And, if you have them on hand, which I try to always, throw in a handful of oven-roasted grape tomatoes with thyme. (Easy peasy: simply slice tomatoes in half, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, add thyme leaves, and roast for 30 minutes in a 325 oven. So versatile and much tastier than anything from a jar or a Mediterranean bar, but again, I digress…)
6. Back to task at hand: tuck your duck into the beans, but don’t submerge the duck Add a cup or so more stock (and wine), leaving skin exposed, and bring to a boil. Cover pot and bake 1 1/2 hours.
7. Check the liquid level every so often, and more boiling broth if needed to keep beans moist and almost covered. You may find that your duck skin is not as crispy as you’d hoped. If that’s the case, remove the lid during the last half hour or so.
8. In the last half hour, you may want to also add some Kale or Collards. Green, after all, is the color of prosperity.
9. When the kitchen smells like heaven, and the bird is crisped to perfection, spoon the beans into a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving rich liquid in pot, and serve the duck on top. By the way, that liquid you left in the pot… let it sit in a jar in the fridge overnight and remove the layer of fat that forms, and you will have a lovely sauce for adding to broth, pouring on vegetables, mixing into mashed potatoes, or simply reheating whatever leftover black-eyed peas you may have.