Preparing the same ingredient multiple ways has long been used by chefs to extend their menu descriptions whilst maintaining their commitment to simple food and the less is more maxim. No other ingredient has been done ‘two ways’ more than duck. Recently for a friend’s 32nd birthday dinner party, I decided to extend this idea by preparing duck ‘thirty two ways’ – not in the literal sense, but with one meaningful preparation for each stage of my friend’s life. My menu follows:
Balut, the unmissable Filipino streetfood of fertilized duck embryo, boiled and eaten in the shell. I served mine traditionally, first boiled then placed in a bucket of sand to retain the heat. I accompanied the balut with salt, chili, garlic and coconut sap vinegar to balance the flavors of the broth surrounding the embryo and the young chick inside. This intensely flavored and interesting amuse-bouche was a delicious come-on.
Confit de canard, or duck confit, the specialty of Gascony, where the leg of the duck is prepared in a centuries-old process of preservation consisting of salt curing and then poaching in its own fat. I prepared mine nine months before the dinner party, opening the jar and removing the meltingly tender meat completely submerged in fat as an analog to my friend’s birth. The traditional accompaniment of red cabbage slow-braised with apples and red wine was also fitting as anyone who has been in a birthing suite will attest to.
My friend was a well rounded child. Well rounded in the sense that she was an adventurous eater, and well… rounded. For my ‘third way’ I thought it would be fitting to pay homage to her struggle as a plump child by serving rich, buttery foie gras, from ducks fattened by gavage. There was a nice symmetry eating a duck you could not only empathize with, but was also decadently rich and fatty. One of they key features of foie gras is that its fat melts at just below body temperature. What goes into your mouth ends up slowly melting away, coating your hips in a wash of flavorful flab. I prepared my foie gras as simply as possible, portioned into one inch thick slabs and pan seared. Served with a caramel deglazed with cognac and a glass of Sauternes, the course was reminiscent of childhood gluttony.
Although liver macerated in alcohol seemed fitting for such an adolescent booze hag. I could not serve another pâté. So for my ‘fourth way’ I looked at creating something confused and socially awkward. Finding a gay Moulard duck proved too difficult, so instead I turned to fusion cuisine, or rather con-fusion cuisine. Instead of combining elements of different culinary traditions that work together, I chose to combine elements that typically do not. The result was a duck neck sausage roll, made with sheets of puff pastry formed around a duck neck sausage filled with pork mince and pistachios. This was served in a bread roll wrapped in Nori. A delicious yet awkward construction.
It’s hard to devise a course around missed opportunity and regret. A course that encapsulates having your dreams ripped away from you – the reality of adulthood. So instead I made vanilla ice-cream to represent my friend’s life. To keep the duck theme alive, I served it with crispy duck skin hardened with maple syrup and a tea jelly. The prefect accompaniment for self-pity and a fitting end to the evening.
How do you like to prepare duck?
I’m now on Twitter and Facebook. Follow, like or subscribe to the sad pig for authentic food and stories of provenance. I’d also like to thank Kevin Dooley, for making his beautiful photo of the toy ducks available under a Creative Commons license.