Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pacific ring of food, where bread is baking, and ducks and goats roam

After someone on craigslist food forum mentioned going to Salmon Creek Ranch that raises duck for eggs and meat, and goats, I wanted to go too. I called them a few times, and every time got an answering machine telling me that everyone is outside with the animals. No wonder: if they have all these fine birds and beasts to tend, why would they sit in the office, waiting for my call?

This Saturday it was nice and sunny. I wanted to go for a ride with the car top down. R. wanted to see the ocean, and a snack or two. So we went on our favorite route to Bodega Bay, stopping at our friend Jed's bakery in Freestone to smell the dough, have coffee with a sticky bun in the vegetable garden, and chat with the owner.

Jed was in the shop, busy as always, but spared a few minutes to talk with us about salsa dancing and to tell the exciting news that his samba drums CD is coming soon. Yes, we’ve been waiting for it!

As we were sipping coffee and blowing on the hot straight out of the oven bun in the sunny garden, the wind started to pick up, so we hurried on before it gets too cold.

Since Salmon Creek Ranch is on the way to Bodega Bay, this time we just drove up to their gate and pressed the intercom button. The intercom gave us the same message as the answering machine, no one in the office. Luckily, John, the owner, was riding his Range Rover not far from the gate. He saw us, opened the gate, and instructed us to follow him to the house.

The gravel road winds around the hillside for about a mile before it gets to the little yellow house surrounded by emerald hills. I didn’t realize how low my convertible is until I scraped the muffler on a couple of bumps. The rainy season took its toll on the gravel road. Have to be careful, we are not in a Rover. This mostly kept me from enjoying the view, which is breathtaking, as R. told me later.

Finally we arrived and parked on the grass between the farmhouse, fenced duck yard, and a tiny wooden shack titled “Merchandise” in large friendly letters. The merchandise shack holds a cooler full of super-fresh duck eggs, and a freezer that contains a wealth of vacuum-packed Muscovy duck breasts and legs. To get fresh duck, you have to be there on the harvest day. Next time I’ll know, I’m on the mailing list.

$38 got us a dozen of huge, dirty, wonderful duck eggs, and two breasts, one large, almost 2 lb, for the smoker, one small, a little over a pound, for the grill. Beats the farmers market. And we got to see the animals.

We didn’t actually meet the egg laying ducks. They roam free, so they were probably hiding from the piercing ocean breeze on the other side of the hill, protected by the hillside and the trees. Meat ducks don’t have this luxury: their yard right on top of the hill is exposed to the wind all the time, guarded by an electric fence and a large shepherd dog Moose, their wing feathers trimmed to prevent them from flying over the fence to meet coyotes and mountain lions. So the meat ducks were all crowded together to keep warm, but refused to go into their little houses. Apparently, the fresh air is more important than comfort.
Goats are too fluffy to care about the wind. The snacks are what they want.
We were greeted by a couple of cute kids, and then the whole herd appeared from over the hill crest, coming right at me.

At some point I thought that I can actually tempt them with a handful of grass to come close enough to touch them, but they figured that I don’t have anything unusual to offer, and lost interest.

The larger goats expertly get up on their hindlegs and chew branches off the trees and tall bushes. The little kids look at them with envy. They are cute eating machines. John rents them out to clear hillside lots.

By the time we got to Bodega Bay it was blowing so hard that we didn’t want to get out of the car. I almost decided to stop and close the car top. We just drove around, took in the view, and went home.

The larger of the two duck breasts that we got at the farm I brined with red wine and blood orange, then smoked in my water smoker over cherry wood chips. Actually, a smoked duck breast is delicious even without any seasoning besides salt and pepper. I just did this complex brine because I could: the red wine that I open and don’t finish; the blood orange from the market; herbs that grow happily in the garden, enjoying this season’s endless rain.
It’s sufficient to brine the duck breast overnight. Due to circumstances beyond my control, mine spent full two days in the brine. The resulting flavor was strong, but beautiful.

Treat the smoked duck as you would treat ham. Serve it cold, thinly sliced across the grain, over green salad, roasted vegetables, or on a slice of bread with fire-roasted pepper and duck egg (or any) mayonnaise.

Smoked duck breast
Serves 4 as the main dish, 6 as an appetizer

1 cup water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
6 whole + ½ tsp crushed black peppercorns
2 sprigs rosemary
5 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 blood orange
1 cup red wine
2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 large whole boneless Muscovy duck breast, skin on

About 2 cups cherry wood or other hardwood chips

Prepare the brine: Boil the water in a small pan. Stir in the salt, whole peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves. Remove the skin from the orange with a vegetable peeler, cut the orange in halves. Drop the orange skin and halves into the brine. Let cool. Remove the orange halves, squeezing the juice into the brine. Add wine.

Brine the duck: Press the garlic slices into the duck breast. Season the breast with crushed black pepper. Put the duck breast into a large zip lock bag, pour the brine into the bag, close, and shake to distribute the brine. Refrigerate overnight, or up to 48 hours.

Smoke the duck: Remove the duck breast from the brine, rinse under cold running water, wipe with paper towels, and leave out to dry. Remove and discard garlic slices. Add the wood chips to the brine, and soak for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the charcoals in a smoker, or heat up a covered grill for low indirect grilling.
Put the duck breast, skin side up, on the grill. Add a handful of soaked hardwood chips to the charcoals (or put them into a smoker box and place on the hottest part of the grill).

Smoke to the enternal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove from the smoker and let cool.

With the skin side up, slice thinly across the grain. Serve.

The Sauvignon Blanc that I had with this duck was a huge mistake. This is a red meat, and it deserves a red wine. Try a big Pinot or a light bodied Merlot with it.

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