This is the first installment of a whole animal series. In this case, I purchased a few ducks from Bar Five Meats, which is about an hour southwest of the Twin Cities in Sibley County, MN and is a sixth generation operation. They do their own butchering and smoking, stress 24 hour pasture access, and everything I have had from them has been of the highest quality. They sell at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market year round, along with a few other markets.
As I seek a greater connection to where my food comes from and have tried some excellent dishes prepared with lesser used parts, it only seems natural to learn how to cook with every edible part of the animal. Future posts will cover stock, rendered duck fat, and organs. After wrapping up the duck series I will move on to lamb.
Earlier this year I learned how to properly break down a chicken. When I cooked a whole chicken it was often “under a brick” or smoked and pulled, which required less break down. Previously it was just one of those things I struggled through when I had to do it without knowing to “follow the knife” and find joints, which a fellow cooking class participant kindly taught me. Of course, he then taunted me with a video from local temple of fried chicken Revival that featured a trained assassin breaking down a bird in less than 30 seconds. Watching it still humbles me.
Ducks are a little more of a project to break down than a chicken as their bone structure is thicker and the flesh is much tighter than on a chicken so “following the knife” is not quite enough to get the job done. After thinking about this it was clear that birds that fly are built differently than those that don’t.
Confit was a new technique to me and was really easy, and just required a day or two of inactive time with salt, parsley, shallots, and thyme rubbed into the skin, and then covered and kept in the fridge. I then covered the legs, thighs and wings in rendered duck fat. (Lowry Hill Meats is a great resource to purchase rendered duck fat if you don’t have it on hand.) The rendered fat was warmed until liquid, and then the parts were added after rinsing. Then into the oven at 225 for about three hours. I now have some of the leftover confit in the back of my fridge protected by the fat that was used in the process for future use.
The breasts did not require much active time either. Score the skin side of the breast and cover in salt and pepper. The easist way is to cook on the stovetop, starting with a cold pan at medium to medium high heat, with caution not to overcook and a quick flip near the end of cooking (not more than 130 or 140 degrees internal temperature for rare to medium rare). I have also gone the sous vide route and cooked them to 110 degrees with some duck fat and thyme and then finished in a skillet that started cold. The fat then rendered over medium heat until a nice crisp ensued, and I gave the other side of the breast a quick sear and finishing around 130 degrees. In this case sous vide seemed like overkill given how well the stovetop breasts turned out.
The breast and confit were served on a bed of risotto with a garnish of a sage leaf fried in duck fat remaining in the pan. Depending on the season I will throw in a nasturtium leaf from the garden. More on the risotto, a favorite recent find, and herb garden in future posts.
At the end of the day, the result was a very elaborate meal that did not require a lot of active time.