|Sichuan Fragrant Duck from Duck, Duck, Goose|
Duck, Duck, Goose, arrived at my door just before Thanksgiving, but it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I finally got to cook a recipe from it. It was a bit of a hunt, even here in Orange County, to find duck breast for the recipe. I found plenty of frozen whole duck, but the recipe for Sichuan Fragrant Duck called for just the breast. So, if you are trying to find it yourself, Bristol Farms has fresh Muscovy duck breasts from Grimaud Farms.
Anyway, back to the book itself. Duck, Duck, Goose is a book that someone who has never seen a duck before could pick up and easily become a proficient butcher and cook of duck. He'll walk you through duck varieties (including photos), how they taste, their use in recipes, how to pluck them, and how to break them down (with photos as well).
Though I haven't cooked any of the recipes in the "Extras" section yet, I particularly enjoyed this section, which makes use of the giblets (heart, liver and gizzard) and fat to make Duck Liver Ravioli, Ganseklein, Smoked Goose Sausages, and Duck Fat Saffron Aioli. Hank relates how he was not a big fan of the innards before he became a hunter, but came to see the necessity of using all parts of the animal he killed. Now they are among his favorite parts of the bird, having learned how to cook them to bring out their unique flavor. I can personally attest to Hank's love of the "extras," having tried bone marrow and lamb fries (testicles) for my first time with him a few years ago. While they weren't the best things I've ever eaten, Hank was gleeful as he ate them, and I was glad I had the opportunity to try something I normally wouldn't have tried.
Before Hank started writing about well, hunting, fishing, gardening and cooking, he was a political journalist, and you'll recognize that in his precise and intelligent writing style, which leaves you with no doubts about how exactly to wet pluck a duck with paraffin wax. But his friendly, personal side comes through in his stories about hunting with friends, his loving notes on the recipes, and historical and informational sidebars.
If you are anything like me, you'll love the photographs by Hank's long-time girlfriend and hunting partner, Holly Heyser. I think it's important for many of these unfamiliar recipes (like Red-Cooked Duck or Salmis of Duck) to be illustrated, and Holly's photos are not only instructive, but beautiful as well.
So, after finally scoring some duck breast, I tried my hand at the recipe that I thought I would enjoy the most--Sichuan Fragrant Duck. It has some specialty ingredients such as chile bean paste and Chinese Black vinegar, but if you do any amount of Asian cooking you'll have them, and even if you don't, they are common staples at any Asian market. I also picked this recipe because it calls for "velveting" the meat, a process of marinating it and passing it through oil quickly, then stir-frying it a second time. It keeps the meat exceptionally tender, and I've been using this method with chicken since I first read about it on Hank's blog.
I loved this dish because the combination of onion, sesame oil, vinegar, chiles and ginger was assertive enough to stand up to the earthy duck. You got a little of everything in each bite--sweet, sour, salty, spicy. As Hank puts it, "a spicy umami bomb."
I'm looking forward to getting outside my comfort zone and working on more of these recipes. I'm not sure I'll get around to shooting and plucking my own duck, but a girl can dream.