Duck, duck, dinner

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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.

Ducks, before

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.

Russ and Kevin, cooking

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.)

Duck, after

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.

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Comments

  1. Right there with you on the fading memories of livestock thing. You think maybe it’s analogous to childbirth? I always hear that the unpleasantness of labor is somehow wiped away into a foggy blur for mothers. Evolution evidently has its tricks. But yes, I moved those broiler chickens three times a day trying to keep them on clean grass, and still they mostly just sat in their own shit after about six weeks of age. Talk about charmless.

    We have duck breasts in the freezer. And a smoker. No deep fryer, but still I’m inspired. Smoked duck is going on the menu, somehow or t’other. Thanks.

  2. ..haha, sounds like a fun time! Personally I like complicated cooking techniques..no time to comment too much though as it is lunch time and I am off to make some soup in the toaster!! hehe..anything in life that has ‘more wine’ is usually better..and if it is not better I figure you need more wine. ;)

  3. Tip: put the end f a bamboo chop stick in the oil if it sizzles with little bubble the oil is hot or have two thermometers at the start. Perfect day with friends, what more could you ask for.

  4. Now you know why sex does not feel like child birth and babies are not born looking like surly teenagers.

    OTOH, you now have an opportunity to find out if having the memory of a wonderful dinner and looking forward to more makes the unpleasantness of raising ducks tolerable. I think you have to do ducks again just to see if this is true.

    Regarding testing oil, I have always just dropped a piece of potato in. If it sulks and there are not many bubbles, it is too cold, and if it bubbles fiercely and spatters, it is too hot. Just right is steady, controlled bubbling. Of course, have salt on hand for when you take out the potato.
    Waste not, wnat not.

  5. Or use the cube of bread trick, which is googleable and actually allows you to judge the oil temp pretty accurately. Although it does involve having cubes of stale bread available, thus requiring the same level of forthought as the purchasing of a thermometer.My mother could judge how hot her oven was by thowing a dusting of flour on the oven floor and timing how long it took to colour. She was a great cook.

  6. Tamar,

    Kevin needs to get a free standing six foot ladder to put over the oil pot then rig a pulley to it for raising and lowering the duck, that way he can do it by himself from a safe distant.

    Some how I don’t think PDH deep fry their ducks, but then getting a large broiler oven would be a little hard to construct.

    You could finish off the ducks in an oven using a roaster pan and the V rack that you would use to do the turkey on.

    According to one recipe I saw you oil the rack so the duck doesn’t stick, 2 – 3 inches of water in the roasting pan, 350 degree oven, put the duck in breast side up for 30 minutes, then turn over duck for another 45 minutes, then turn one last time breast side up for another 30 minutes or until the skin is golden brown.

    Granted the deep fried duck will be very moist and uniform golden brown skin, I had deep fried turkey before, but the water in the roaster pan keeps the duck moist as it cooks.

  7. Brined a chicken for the first time before roasting last weekend- I don’t think I’ll ever roast another bird without brining it first. Wow.

    Re: oil- the handle end of a wooden spoon works too- if it starts frying with little bubbles it’s hot enough. Even with owning, let’s see, at least three thermometers I could thrust into hot oil, I always use a wooden spoon handle because they’re right there by the stove and I don’t have to dig for them and it works. And because I’m lazy.