The Tale of the Not-So-Ugly Duckling

By Amelia Schwartz | Jaclyn Warren

By

Amelia Schwartz
Jaclyn Warren
Half Smoked Duck, Honey Espresso Duck Ju, and Root Vegetables
Half Smoked Duck, Honey Espresso Duck Ju, and Root Vegetables

Can a duck become a swan? Well, no. But with time, care, and the nearly unattainably high standards of Chef Gavin Schmidt, it can become smokin’ hot. Schmidt’s whole smoked duck is a staple at The Morris, where he’s gone through about 60 a week. At the casual, convivial spot with an intrepid, idiosyncratic wine list from Paul Einbund (whose father is the restaurant’s namesake), a shareable dish was a natural fit (half a duck serves at least two for $65/whole $130). “We liked the idea of a roasted bird because it reminds you of the holidays. I tried roasting a duck one day about five years ago and I thought it was the worst duck I ever cooked. But my business partner, [Einbund], said, ‘If this is the worst duck you’ve ever cooked, I want to see the best duck you’ve ever cooked,’ ” says Schmidt, who systematically blind-tasted flocks of duck before choosing Sonoma County Poultry’s “Liberty Ducks” for their fattier, juicier, meatier birds. And so, with plenty repetition, The Morris’ duck was born… and smoked...and roasted… and plated with some honey espresso duck jus and root veg.

 

THIS DUCK'S JOURNEY IS NO WALK IN THE PARK

1. The tale begins in the wide open fields of Sonoma County Poultry, where the “Liberty Ducks” of the Pekin (not Peking!) variety are plentiful. Averaging five to six pounds (at $3.49 per), Pekin ducks have the size and high fat content that, when roasted, allows for a most moist bird. 

2. Plucked naked, they arrive at The Morris where Schmidt removes wings and neck before submerging the duck in a simple brine of 1 part salt, 2 parts sugar, garlic, and thyme for one day. That sweet mixture will make for a nice crispy skin later on. The wings and neck are saved for roasting, stock, or maybe a nice fried wang appetizer. 

3. Next the ducks hang out (literally) for 7 to 10 days while the skin dries, meat tenderizes, and flavors concentrate. 

4. Two hours before service, the duck goes in the Cook Shack smoker at 165°F, where it hickory smokes until thigh and leg are tender. Smoky fatty drippings are collected for roasting fingerling potatoes, asparagus, turnips, carrots, and spring onion later on. 

5. Schmidt finishes off the bird in a 425°F-convection oven for about thirty minutes, where the skin crisps and caramelizes.  

6. The platter of sliced duck is framed with the roasted vegetables and drizzled with honey-espresso jus. 

7. No duck part left behind! Schmidt gets creative with whatever is leftover. Whether it be duck rillette and duck liver mousse for the charcuterie board, chopped duck gizzard spread, or duck heart skewers, Schmidt makes sure each ducks’ life has purpose.

8. Paul Einbund suggests to drink this California Syrah with your duck: La Bruma, Peay Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, 2015

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