Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting in shape for the holidays: duck two ways

I've been trying, not very successfully, to switch myself from "when summer?" mood into the holiday mood. When the days become short and cold, it doesn't make sense to weep over the sunshine gone before I get home and the last fig on the tree, it's time to enjoy long evenings by the fireplace and seriously high-fat slow cooking.

I’ve been craving a duck breast for a while. I checked local stores – special order; checked online – you can get a very fancy frozen duck breast (a choice of varieties) for about $15, but you’ll pay $30 for shipping. I want it, but not that badly. Then I figured that the easiest way to satisfy the craving would be to buy a frozen duck in Safeway, cut off the breast, and use the rest for soup and cooking fat. This may be not the best duck breast out there; in fact, it turned out very small; but it was available.

While the duck was thawing in the fridge, a book arrived in the mail, Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn. An exciting book for the season, a soulful, engaging and precise description of cold meats, pates, sausages and confits. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have color photographs, but the charming hand-drawn illustrations by a Russian artist almost make up for this.

The duck, sage and roast garlic sausage from the book was just what I needed. I bought additional 8 duck legs in a Chinese grocery to supplement the two I already had, and set out to bone them. The book mentions that it’s labor-intensive, it doesn’t say exactly how much. I learned a lot about duck anatomy while removing all skin, bone and sinews from ten duck legs, which mostly consist of skin, bone, and sinews. The first one took me about 25 minutes. The last, three minutes. It’s much easier to bone the legs while they are partially frozen – the meat is stiff and the skin is not as slippery; you can separate them with your fingers, with very little help of a sharp boning knife. I got lots of bones for a stock, and fat and skin to render. I'll be making a confit next time!

As a result I had about 1 kilogram of duck meat, instead of 1.5 kilo that the recipe called for. I guess my legs were skinny.
I followed the recipe almost without making changes – not my usual style. The only two things that I changed were that I had to use pork belly since I couldn’t find fat back, so the sausage got some pork meat in it, and should probably be called duck and bacon sausage; I also used regular roasted garlic instead of steamed garlic recommended by the recipe – I already had roasted two heads of garlic before I got the book, and I love roasted garlic flavor anyway.

Keeping everything cold, I seasoned, ground, and stuffed the sausage in hog casing. I only got 1.7 kg of sausage instead of 2.2 kg in th recipe (skinny legs, and my old temperamental Porkert hand-grinder messed up some meat, as it usually does, before I managed to adjust it for a nice clean grind), so it was a good thing that I went light on the seasoning and fried and tasted a piece of meat before seasoning more. It still gave me 20 sausages (plus one 3-inch half-sausage at the end), because mine are a little short: not 6, but rather 4.5 – 5 inches.

The Saturday dinner was mixed duck: one duck sausage and one small half-breast per serving, with cauliflower, bok choy, and mushroom sauce.

I scored the skin on the duck breasts half way through, seasoned it with salt and white pepper, and cooked it over medium-low heat skin side down until the fat melted out and the skin crisped. Then turned them over and finished cooking over medium heat, until medium-done, or almost firm to the touch. The sausages were cooking in the same pan, it took them a few minutes longer to acheve an internal temperature of 150 degrees.

I then sauteed the mushrooms in the same pan, deglazed it with some white wine and duck stock, added sallots, reduced the sauce, and laddled it over the duck breasts.

Wine: Boeger Milagro 2006

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