About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Roast Duck Dinner (From Post Office to Plate) - Part 4

Duck tonight!  Time to do the "final assembly" of all the components for our duck dinner, at last!
Three days have passed since we butchered the first duck and I start the day with 6 VERY nicely cleaned,  plucked and rested,  feet-on ducks.  I figure I have just enough room in my commercial convection oven to roast them all at the same time.  This allows me some economies of scale and conservation of energy consumption.
The first step is to make up a big batch of aromatic-rich mirepoix.  I used 2 lbs of carrots, one large head of celery, four medium onions, and one head of garlic,   I chopped all of this coarsely and added about a cup of fresh rosemary leaves, some salt and ground black pepper and tossed it to mix well.
Rough Mirepoix
To prepare the ducks I cut off the feet, necks, fatty skin flap around the neck and knuckles off the legs.  These all go on the bottom of the roast pans along with a little of the mirepoix. I then folded each wing back onto itself, tucking it under the body.
Next I filled the body cavity of each duck loosely with the remaining mirepoix, rubbed the exteriors with a little dark soy sauce, arranged them, breast side up, in the roast pans and popped them in the preheated 350F oven.
While the ducks cooked I started the wild rice pilaf that would accompany them at dinner.  I started by measuring out 2 cups of wild rice, covering it with water in a small sauce pot and bringing it to a boil then quickly draining it ("blanching"). 

While the rice blanched, I cut up another aromatic mirepoix (carrots, celery, onions and garlic), this time diced about 1/4" (garlic fine chopped) and began sautéing it in a little butter.  When it was almost soft I added some chopped thyme and rosemary to cook for a minute or so before removing it from the heat. I brought 8 cups of well-seasoned chicken stock to a boil.
I put the blanched and drained wild rice in a lightly oiled 2" hotel pan, stirred in the sautéed mirepoix and poured on the boiling stock. A quick stir to distribute everything evenly, then I covered the pan with plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil and popped it in the oven.
Back to the ducks.  After about an hour I turned each of the ducks so they were breast-down.  The mirepoix was browning nicely but not getting too dark so back in the oven they all went.
I checked the rice after an hour in the oven and it still had a ways to go but was coming nicely.
After the second hour in the oven for the ducks they got flipped again (breast side up again).  I often find that with store-bought ducks they are very close to being done at this point and a little crisping of the breast skin is all that is needed. These ducks were not nearly ready yet.  I suspect it was because of their age (quite a bit older than commercially prepared birds) but for what ever reason, they needed some more quality time in the oven.  The mirepoix was darkening and there was very little liquid remaining in the bottoms of the roast pans so I added a little water to each to prevent scorching.
To my surprise, the ducks took nearly another hour to cook sufficiently at which time I took them out, removed them from the pans to cool. 
I then set about deglazing the roast pans on the stove over hot flames with some red wine and water, scraping up all the brown bits. This would all go toward making the stock that would be made into a sauce for the ducks so, the deglazing liquid went into a stock pot with the feet, necks and mirepoix from the pans.  
deglazing a roast pan
I covered the parts with more water and put the pot on the stove to heat while I continued working with the birds.
By this time the rice was fully cooked and very fluffy.  I poured it out of the hotel and onto a sheet pan to cool, then put into the fridge.  I've found that wild rice will tend to sour if not cooled and chilled quickly after cooking.
Once cool enough to work with, I de-boned the ducks.  Starting by tearing off the first two joints of each of the wings, then cutting each bird in half through the backbone and breast and removing the mirepoix from the cavities (goes into the stock pot) 

I proceeded to pull out all of the now-exposed rib, back, hip and breast bones, being careful not to tear the meat or otherwise mangle the birds.  Most of the bones (which of course also go into the stock pot) came out easily so all that was left in each half was one leg bone, one thigh bone and one wing bone.  This makes the duck halves sit nicely on the plate, be very easy to eat and gives me more bones for the stock!

mostly-deboned duck half
The duck halves then went into the fridge to chill while the stock cooked.
All My Ducks in a Row
After about 6 hours at a low simmer, the stock was a rich brown color, smelled great and some of the bones were just beginning to fall apart.  
Duck Stock Simmers
Time to strain. After removing as many of the larger bones as possible I strained the stock first through a coarse china cap (conical colander), then through progressively finer mesh strainers and finally through a sieve lined with cheesecloth.  
I skimmed off as much of the fat as possible (reserved for other uses) and cooled the nearly-clear stock in an ice bath before moving it to the fridge to finish chilling.
Time to make the sauce.  Duck L'Orange is the classic preparation for roast duck with a rich orange-flavored sauce but the same technique can be used to make any type of fruity sauce.  Today I was going to make one with blackberries.
I started by making a piquant caramel by combining sugar and red wine vinegar and cooking it to a thick syrup and then to a medium brown.  This base is what will give the sauce much of its sweet-and-sour kick.   

Piquant Caramel for Sauce
While the caramel was reducing I pureed some previously frozen blackberries with an orange.  These I added to the caramel when it reached just the right point to stop the cooking process (CAUTION! This is a little tricky and can cause violent sputtering of the molten sugar if you are not very careful). 

I cooked the blackberry/caramel mix a bit longer to further reduce and concentrate the flavors then strained the base through a fine sieve to remove the berry seeds, pressing to get every drop of base I could.
I retrieved the cold stock from the fridge, skimmed off the little bit more fat that had congealed on the surface and put some stock in a small sauce pot.  I added some of my blackberry base and began heating the mixture.  There are any number of options for thickening this sauce but arrowroot is usually my tool of choice.  I like the glossy, semi-clear look of the finished sauce but in this case I thought I'd try something a little different.  I made a quick roux from some of the reserved duck fat and flour and also dissolved some cornstarch in cold water and used a combination of the two as my thickeners.  The result was interesting.  It had the full body and mouth-feel of a demi-glace brown sauce but also the sheen of an arrowroot sauce.  I liked it.  A bit of tweaking of the flavor (touch more thyme, little more vinegar at the finish) and the sauce was good-to-go.
Putting it all together.  It's almost dinner time but these are big birds and we've been picking at the roast duck bones all day so we opt to have just 1/4 duck each tonight.  The duck half goes onto a sizzling platter, skin side up, with a little water on the bottom (to prevent drying of the exposed meat) and into a 450F oven.  This will heat it through and crisp up the skin in about 10 minutes.  In the mean time I reheat some of the wild rice in the microwave, and make sure the sauce is hot and ready.
Once the duck was ready it was time to eat!  I added a few sliced tomatoes, fresh from our green house to complete the plate.  At last, our own duck dinner!
It was absolutely worth the work and the wait but now you know why, when I buy a frozen duck at the grocery store, Kathryn calls it a "convenience product" or even "fast food"!

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