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A Duck Tasting

My friend Matt farms and raises chickens and has been wanting to get into ducks for a while. Last year, he raised a few Pekins, but the flavor and texture of the meat was underwhelming. We talked about it and other potential breeds during the winter. This year, he was able to get some Muscovy ducks. He texted me earlier in the week and asked if I wanted to try one. When I went to pick it up, I was surprised that cleaned it weighed in a 6-1/2 pounds, a behemoth!

It seemed pretty clear early on that I needed to do something special with this duck, so I decided to do a tasting menu for four people with it. I sat down on the deck Thursday morning and just started writing down whatever came to mind, mostly as an exercise in showing my new sous chef just how versatile duck is.

Duck has two distinct types of meat as do most fowl: the breast and the legs. The breast meat wants to be served rare while the leg meat wants to be slow-cooked to unctuous goodness. But there’s a lot more to a duck than this. The skin can be rendered for both delicious duck fat and the crack-like cracklings that remain after the fat is rendered. The breasts can be cured to make the most delicious faux prosciutto and the legs can become amazing confit. Once all is said and done, the carcass and bones make extraordinary stock. And let’s not forget duck eggs: the best of all eating eggs, so rich and so flavorful. My kids would rather not eat chicken eggs after eating duck eggs. Indeed, the duck is a most culinarily useful creature.

We started executing the menu Thursday morning with me giving a lesson in how to break down fowl and then we served the following menu Friday night.

We have beautiful arugula now so I decided to do a warm sweet and sour dressing made from duck fat, sugar, and white balsamic vinegar. Besides arugula, the salad also contains charred brussels sprouts, dried cherries, and Marcona almonds. To finish the salad, I topped it with duck cracklings, croutons on steroids! This is a delicious and unusual salad.

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Arugula Salad, Warm Duck Fat Dressing, Duck Cracklings

Next up, I decided I wanted to do a soup and I thought of all kinds of duck broth soups quite suitable for winter, but here we are at the end of July, smack in the middle of summer. A warm broth soup just does not suit this weather. A cold soup would be perfect. The first two soups that I wrote down were gazpacho and chłodnik (a Polish beet soup). That got me thinking about the color pink and I realized that I had both red cabbage and watermelon radishes, both shades of pink or purple, in the walk-in along with lots of baby beets just in from the fields.

From here, a quick leap to red cabbage and beet gazpacho which I decided to have the servers pour over the garnish tableside. For garnish, I decided on a watermelon radish and duck confit slaw. The gazpacho is made from duck stock, red cabbage juice, roasted beets, a few cornichons, pickled beet juice, Sherry vinegar, and olive oil. The slaw has a whole-grained mustard, agave nectar, and white balsamic vinegar dressing. The effect is pleasantly sweet-tart and refreshing.

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Red Cabbage and Beet Gazpacho, Watermelon Radish and Duck Confit Slaw

I love to do charcuterie but making duck breast prosciutto takes weeks, not hours, and so I settled on rillettes of quick-cured shredded duck leg meat, orange zest, fresh thyme, nutmeg, and duck fat. These rillettes are delicious; lucky are those who had this dinner! Even for formal tastings, sometimes I will throw in a course served family-style like this one. I find it sometimes getting people interacting and enjoying themselves more.

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Duck Rillettes

We have both local chanterelles and local corn in abundance now and I love the interplay of the two. I needed a course to use a lot of the duck stock made from braising the legs and then from roasting the carcass and all the bones since we weren’t doing a warm soup. This risotto was what I came up with.

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Duck, Chanterelle, and Corn Risotto with Thyme

After a killer intermezzo sorbet, a super-intense blueberry lime sorbet, we moved to the duck breast which I grilled to rare and served along with morels, blackberries, and red currants. The whole is drizzled with blackberry syrup and sprinkled with very crunchy salt for texture.

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Grilled Muscovy Duck Breast with Blackberries, Currants, and Morels

Last, but not least, a duck egg dessert, deconstructed lemon meringue pie with macerated blueberries and blueberry syrup.

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“Lemon Meringue Pie” – Duck Egg Lemon Curd, Duck Egg Meringue

A big shout out to Matt Hardin for the duck. Matt, these Muscovy ducks are really good and worth all your labor. Thanks for all you do for us and for our community.

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