This is what I was afraid of.
It’s October, and the pain in the ass that is a flock of live ducks is a hazy distant memory. The joy that is a smoked, deep-fried duck is vivid and lasting.
Back in June, when we slaughtered our flock, our smokehouse wasn’t finished yet. We wanted smoked duck, so we sent all six to freezer camp.
Then, back in August, Kevin finished the smokehouse, and all we needed was the appropriate occasion. That arrived this week when our friends Russ and Mylene came to visit.
Russ and Mylene live in California, but their daughter goes to school in Providence so they end up in our neighborhood pretty regularly. This makes us happy because A) We enjoy their company, B) They are game for absolutely anything, and C) Russ is an excellent cook.
Kevin had been reading about how the Peking Duck House, a place we love in Manhattan, makes their ducks, and he wanted to do a version of it. Essentially, it’s a two-step process. First, you smoke. Then, you deep-fry. (The PDH adds a few other steps, but we stuck to basics for this, our first attempt.)
On Sunday, we thawed two of our six ducks, and Kevin fired up the smokehouse. There was plenty of extra room, so we bought two chickens to keep them company. He used oak, and smoked the birds at about 250 for three hours. The ducks went into the refrigerator.
Russ and Mylene arrived Monday morning, and we started planning dinner just before lunch. We’d wanted to do scallions, cucumber, and plum sauce, all wrapped in those thin little pancakes. Scallions, cucumber, and plum sauce were no problem, but I had no idea how we could make or, preferably, where we could procure, the pancakes.
Russ scoffed at my concern. “Crepes,” he said. “They’re all-purpose.”
Well, okay then.
Russ also spotted an eggplant he liked the look of in our garden, and had big plans for it. (Years ago, Russ and I bought an eggplant that was a dead ringer for Richard Nixon, and we’ve been cooking eggplant together ever since.) To find something to go with the eggplant, and to make sure we didn’t spend the whole day eating and talking about food, we went out for a wild mushroom hunt and came home with some boletes.
As the sun went down, we opened the wine and started cooking. Mylene made crepes as Russ diced eggplant. I sliced mushrooms, scallions, and cucumbers. Kevin got the outdoor burner and started heating the oil.
Then we opened more wine.
Stories where nothing goes wrong are pretty dull, but I’m afraid that the only mishap was thermometer malfunction. We had to guess when the oil was ready, and if anyone’s got a good technique for doing that, I want to hear about it. (The popcorn kernel, which was supposed to pop at 350, sunk to the bottom of the pot, never to be seen again.)
We guessed, and put the first duck in for six minutes. When we sliced it open, we thought another couple of minutes would be optimal, so we fried the second duck for nine minutes, and it was perfect.
Dinner was ducks we raised, wrapped in crepes made with eggs from our chickens. There were cucumbers from the hoophouse. Russ made a spicy stir-fry with eggplant from the garden and mushrooms we’d foraged. There was more wine.
And this is what I was afraid of. Next spring, in duckling season, it’s this dinner I’ll remember. I won’t think about the havoc ducks wreak. The mess and the smell won’t seem so bad. The charmlessness won’t seem so important. I’ll think of crepe-wrapped smoked duck, and I will want ducks again.