Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Duck Night!

I am thrilled to announce that our third-annual Duck Night took place last night! And I have decided that duck is far too wonderful to only eat once a year.
A couple of our friends had never had duck before so I took care to invite them over for the meal. I had 2 ducks and there were 5 of us in total so I figured we'd have just enough meat. Since there were some newbies as far as their experience with duck goes, I opted to roast one duck, and to debone the other and cook the breasts from the second duck separately. I believe I've said it before, but there is no harm in reiterating it: I love working with duck. It is worlds easier than working with chicken. I think the main difference lies in the general shape of the bird. Deboning a nice, round chicken involves a more downward cut, while deboning a nice, flattened duck involves a more horizontal cut. In actuality, the technique in both is the same - lay the blade on either side of the breast bone and allow the blade to slide down the bone all the way to the wishbone and down to the legs. But for some reason, the angle of the breast bone on a duck makes this task much easier.
Anyway, I had the first duck pricked and scored and cleaned and seasoned, and the second one deboned and all but the breasts of the second in my huge roaster, when I decided that I would make gravy. I had not planned on it since (huge confession coming...) I had never made gravy from scratch before, but I thought now was as good a time to learn as any. So, inspite of using an actual roasting pan with rack, instead of construction a roasting rack out of veggies like I normally would, I still opted to put some celery, onion and garlic in the bottom of the roasting pan. I also poured some red wine over the ducks just to give it some moisture.
While those were in the oven I took care of the rest of dinner: Asparagus, green beans, parmesan-carrot risotto, a french loaf with cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese, and for dessert Chocolate pots de creme with earl grey infused whipping cream and almond tuilles.
I had actually made the pots de creme the night before (I love make-ahead desserts!) and I made the almond tuilles and infused the cream in the morning. The green beans I blanched in the afternoon and reheated on the stove top with a bit of duck fat (mmmm duck fat.) The risotto, as is the case with risotto, was some work. I almost shied away from it because of how hands-on and time-consuming it is, but really, what better to serve with duck?? The goat cheese had a two-fold reason for making it onto the menu. First, I had been craving it for about 7 months, and second, I almost always find myself running late when company comes over and instead of stressing about it, I serve them good bread, cheese and wine and nobody minds that it's now 6:27 and I said dinner would be served at 6. It keeps me sane.
For the last touch on the menu, I cooked up those duck breasts on the stove top and made up a pomegranate-balsamic reduction. I scored the skin and cooked it skin-side-down on high for 5 minutes first so the fat melted away and the skin crisped up to extraordinary levels. So yummy!

In the last five minutes of cooking the duck breast (which took longer than I had planned because I forgot to bring it to room temperature before cooking it...) I made an effort on the duck gravy. And my goodness, my effort was repaid a hundred-fold! Having never made gravy without a packet (but I had made plenty of pan sauces and reductions) I knew that I needed drippings to start and it needed to get thick and that it needed to taste good, and that was about where my knowledge ended. Fortunately, I had emptied out the roasting pan after the first hour of cooking the ducks and repoured some liquid in at that point. So most of the fat was already separated and I had lots of drippings to work with. I put the drippings in a pot and brought it to a boil while I whisked in a slurry of flour and water. (I eyeballed the flour and the water - and the drippings. So, sorry, no measurements). Once the gravy was semi-thickened I tasted it and was utterly, wonderfully surprised to find that it was already amazing. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't that. I added a touch of pepper for bite and a bit of salt to round it out, and I defy any packaged gravy to taste that good.
Oh, and one more fantastic part about the meal - Matt surprised me by coming home with a bottle of wine. A very, very, VERY good bottle of wine. Chateauneuf du Pape from Southern France (check your region when buying; the Northern vineyards don't put out as good of a wine and while you pay only $30 for the mediocre and $40 for the better, I'd rather spring the extra $10 and drink a great bottle than $30 for one I could do without).

All in all, it was a fantabulous meal. My company loved it; I converted the newbies to duck-lovers and the one guy who had eaten duck previously was in love with the risotto, which was a newer dish to him. Dessert went over perfectly and the only leftovers I had of anything were two, tiny, little duck wing halves. So, since I didn't carve all of the hard-to-reach meat off the carcasses, I will be making duck stock today with the carcasses and wings!

Yay for Duck Night!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

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