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Duck Tales: A Head to Tail Duck Cooking

Duck Tales: A Head to Tail Duck Cooking

Seared duck breast with lemon, ginger, and pickled grapes (photo by k.k.)

Katie Kwan | Chef's Blade

Last Friday I went to my local grocer in search for some onions. Instead of onions, however, I emerged with a duck.

Why you ask? Because it caught my eye. Sitting next to the well butchered chicken thighs were whole ducks, necks included – sadly no head nor feet. Impulsively, I went with what was fresh and what looked great. I also had never broken down a whole duck before which was an inviting challenge.

Upon checking out, the cashier said “when you open the bag, it might smell a little, and there may be a little blood. Don’t worry. It is just because the ducks were killed this morning. Very fresh. You will love it.” I did. Free range Mary’s Ducks raised locally, in Fresno California.

I set out to use the entirety of my duck that weekend. I brined and seared the duck breast, I tea smoked the legs, I made stock off the carcass and wings, I saved the bits of meat for soup, and saved the fat for potatoes. I wanted to make the most of this sacred poultry.

Duck is fattier than chicken. Unlike its “whiter” fleshed friend, duck breast is very rich and very tender. It hardly needs preparation, a quick pan fry will do. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t optimize the results with meticulous preparation. To do so, I brined the breast in a sugary spiced brine for 6 hours to infuse flavor and ensure succulence. I then dressed the breast simply with lemon, ginger, duck broth, and pickled grapes.

The flavor profile was a take on Carena’s Duck Duo published in Gourmet Magazine’s September 2008 issue on Paris. Carena is somebody I look up to. She owns a small restaurant in Bellville. The greatest chefs in Paris are her patrons. Despite her following, she has remained in her modest shop rather than opening a large restaurant.

Carena came to Paris 20 years ago, via Argentina. Her food is the natural intersection of her past and present influences. It is Argentinian, French, Asian, and Spanish. Her dishes surprise and inspire. Her chocolate mouse uses sichuan peppercorns.

Her recipe for duck also incorporates the whole duck. She braises duck thighs in duck broth and then sears the breast. I have edited the recipe for brevity but maintain the flavors. I also add pickled grapes from smitten kitchen for a tart element that sings well with the spices in the Zuni Cafe duck brine. I serve it with pillowy mashed potatoes, a hearty yet subtle backdrop.

This recipe is magical and well edited. Please enjoy!

1. Ingredients
2. Recipe

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