Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Daffy Duck is Coming to Dinner.....

When I think of duck (not 'ducks', but DUCK) I always think of the fancy duck breast you might order in an upscale restaurant with the pretty little criss-cross cuts in the layer of fat on the breast.

That is SO not what happened in my kitchen when I made duck for the first time.

First of all, where do you buy duck when you don't live in a big city? I'll tell you where. You gotta know a guy. And, as luck has it, I do. For once, I was appreciative of the fact that I have so many hunters in my circle of friends. And, just by chance, when Ginny announced that we needed to make this recipe a few weeks before her visit, it was duck and goose season in Illinois.

There are some things you should know about duck. First of all, wild duck are much smaller than domesticated duck. The recipe called for two to three pounds of thighs only. If we had done that with the wild ducks, we would have needed about ten of them! Those little thighs were so tiny, they were practically worthless. Those ducks had to have been the size of Daffy himself to yield that kind of meat. SO, instead, we used four whole ducks. Also, when you buy duck in the store, it comes with the skin and fat still on. Well, I have been informed that its a big ol' pain in the hunter's ass to scald the ducks, then pluck the feathers in order to leave all of that intact. So I told the guys not to worry about it, I figured for this recipe, we didn't really need the skin or extra fat either, because, as you will soon see, there is plenty of fat in this recipe already.

Let's talk about lard for a moment, m'kay? If there is one thing I have discovered about life in the country, it is that I have gotten used to buying large quantities of beef and pork directly from the butcher, along with all the unusual parts and bi-products that go along with it. Such as lard. About every other time we buy a hog, we generally have the lard rendered at the same time. That is an optional step, but I like having the lard for biscuits, etc, so we have it done. I don't use a lot of lard in my cooking, so we don't get it done every time. Well, we haven't bought a hog for awhile, and the last time we did, I didn't have the lard rendered, so my supply of lard was less than fresh, and frankly, may have been a tad questionable. So, I went in search of new lard. My first thought was to call the meat locker. Chances are, if someone was having a hog processed and didn't want their lard, I could ask to have it rendered and pay that part of the processing. Unfortunately, that was not an available option at the time I was looking for it. Now, if you don't buy a whole hog at once, or you live in a city and don't have ready access to lard, your choices are much more limited, and that's what I ended up having to resort to. Running to the local Walmart and buying a tub of Manteca, which is just over-processed, flavorless lard that you can find in the latin food section. The lard you get from the locker actually smells and tastes like it is a pork product instead of a close cousin of candle wax. But I digress.

Just so you know, this is what six cups of lard looks like. Yikes! That's how much the recipe says to use for baking the duck.Ok, moving on, here is the recipe, with my cooking notes.

As tasty as this dish was, it was NOT worth the work involved. It was really good, don't get me wrong, but I would have been just as satisfied with a chunk of pork that I didn't have to bone out, or, for that matter, go into negotiations with a backwoods duck hunter for my dinner. Also, I can't say that I feel the process of baking the duck in lard really made any huge difference in the dish. Granted, I didn't try making it without that step, but I just really didn't find any obvious tastes or textures related to that. Aside from which, the two hours the duck spent in that lard, in my new oven, kind of made my house smell like ass. Yes, it really did. And it clung to the walls, unwilling to relinquish its hold on my house....lingering for DAYS.

So yes, the dish was good, and we still love Rick Bayless. However, if I chose to make this dish again, I think I'd just use pork. One thing to remember though, is that the Crunchy Tomatillo Avocado Salsa totally made this dish. Do not skip out on it, thinking that you could just substitute some store bought salsa. No. Absolutely not. MAKE the salsa. Put it on the duck. Put it on some chips. Hell, put it on the bumper of your car - it would still taste fantastic! Even if you DON'T make the duck (and I'm pretty sure you won't), DO make the salsa. It was amazing. Unfortunately, the only picture you're going to see of the salsa is in the corner of the picture with the carnitas. Why? Because we scarfed it down like we were dying of thirst and it was the only water in the desert. Yep, it was that good.

Overall, I am glad we made the dish. Again, I'm not convinced it was worth the effort, but it was definitely a learning process, and a good meal!Duck Carnitas
(Carnitas de Pato)
Makes 3 generous cups of coarsely shredded carnitas
Recipe from Season 7 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time

6 large duck legs (you need 2 1/2 to 3 pounds total)
4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
6 cups fresh, rich-tasting pork lard
8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Crunchy Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa (see recipe below)

1. Marinate the duck. Lay the duck legs in a 13 x 9-inch non-aluminum baking dish. Sprinkle with half the salt and oregano, then drizzle with half the lime juice. Flip them over and sprinkle with the remaining salt and oregano; drizzle with the remaining lime. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning a couple of times.
2. Cook the duck. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large (4-quart) saucepan, melt the lard. Remove the duck from the baking dish and pat dry on paper towels. Rinse and dry the baking dish. Fit in the duck legs. Pour the lard over the duck, making sure the legs are completely submerged. Scatter the garlic cloves over the duck legs and nestle them into the lard. Slide into the oven (you may want to do this on a rimmed baking sheet to avoid spills), and bake for about 2 hours until the duck is very tender. Cool to lukewarm.

3. Serve the duck carnitas. Remove the duck from the lard. Pull off the skin and set aside. Pull the meat from the bone into large pieces. Discard the bones. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the lard into a very large (12-inch) skillet (preferably nonstick) and set over medium-high. When hot, lay in the skin and cook, turning frequently, until very crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to a drain on paper towels. Add the meat and cook, turning regularly, until browned and crisping in spots, about 7 or 8 minutes Scoop into a serving platter. Coarsely crumble the duck skin over the top and serve with the Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa and warm tortillas.
Crunchy Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa
(Salsa Verde Crujiente con Aguacate)
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
Recipe from Season 7 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time
8 ounces (about 4 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro
Hot green chiles to taste (roughly 2 small serranos or 1 small jalapeƱo), stemmed and roughly chopped
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin
1 small white onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Roughly chop half of the tomatillos and scoop them into a food processor with the cilantro and green chiles. Measure in 1/4 cup water and process to a slushy, coarse puree. Roughly chop half the avocado, add it to the processor and pulse until it is incorporated into the salsa. Scrape into a serving dish. Scoop the onion into a small strainer and rinse under cold water. Add to the salsa. Finely chop the remaining tomatillos and add them, too. Finally, chop the remaining avocado into 1/4-inch pieces and stir them into the salsa. Taste and season with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon. Alternative Method: Put all the tomatillos (quartered), cilantro and chiles through a meat grinder to chop them (no water necessary), then stir in finely chopped avocado and rinsed onion.


ARLENE said...

I'm ROTFLMAO; that image of "smelling like ass" will keep coming back to me and making me laugh all night long. Having my own resident hunter, I didn't hold out much hope for the duck. At least it wasn't dry like wild turkey. But 6 cups of lard. Madre mio! Glad it was tasty even though you won't make it again.

Kim said...

You are one brave woman! It sounds and looks delicious, but all the hassle of the duck and the lard and then the actual process. It would've scared me off for sure. No doubt that the end result was delicious though and I do love Rick Bayless.

I'm Just a Girl said...

Cousin of candle wax? Smelling like ass? LOL!!!!!!

Joanne said...

Wow. This sounds like quite a process. Personally, I would just repeat the recipe but with pork or chicken instead. That being said, it also sounds delicious.

Your description of the process was too funny. You are so adorable.

Krista said...

I completely laughed through this whole post. Being raised on a farm, I'm pretty familiar with fresh-from-the-pig lard. That is a ton of lard for the duck. Weird. I have access to domestic duck. I wonder if I could just slow cook it in the crock pot? Where did you get the duck eggs? I may have to try this, without the lard. Sorry about the stench though. Maybe I'll wait til' Spring to try it so that I can cook it with my windows open. lol