By Tejal Rao
November 2006

» Recipes

A Duck for All Seasons
The most common breed of wild duck in the United States is the recognizable green-headed Mallard but when it comes to eating, Americans generally prefer the milder flavor of the farmed White Pekin and Muscovy. The Muscovy duck, an unattractive red-headed relation, is the duck of choice for most American foie gras producers for its considerably larger frame and higher production. The hybrid Moulard has found its way into foie gras production and farming as well. The advantages of farmed duck? They're consistently available year-round and consumers often prefer their milder taste.

Duck Season Open!
Technically this isn’t the time for farmed duck—‘tis the season for hunting and game, for animals to naturally over-eat and fatten up for the winter, for stronger flavor combinations and richer, heartier meat pairings. For centuries we’ve been hunting duck in the wild and using their instinctual pre-migratory eating capabilities to our advantage to fatten their livers. While wild game in the United States is unfortunately prohibited from being sold commercially, as it isn’t inspected, it’s possible to find a purveyor who feeds his ducks properly and allows them to exercise periodically, or better yet, a friend that hunts. If this isn’t possible but you’re looking to simulate a meaty game flavor, essentially the whole point of a rare slice of duck breast, seek out the stronger-tasting Mallard.

Going Gamey: The Mallard
The Mallard, like all ducks, is a delicious paradox of muscle and fat. Its breast meat is covered in a thick layer of fat but it’s impossibly lean and toughens up quickly when overcooked. One solution is high-heat, fast cooking that preserves its rare, red center while turning its fat golden and crisp. Like most active game, the duck’s breasts are rich in dark red muscle fibers, evolved from centuries of long migrations, and make for a flavorful, rare meat unlike most of its poultry relatives who don’t like to travel. Its less muscular thighs, on the other hand, tenderize with long, slow cooking. Classically, duck legs undergo a slow confit in the fragrant fat rendered from those thick layers of migratory insulation between skin and meat. When breasts, thighs and skin are broken down, the carcass makes for rich, dark stocks and the creamy little livers, fattened or not, can be smoothed into pâtés and terrines.

To Cook Someone’s Duck
The duck’s versatility means buying them whole and breaking them down properly can not only save on money but result in multifaceted dishes that do the entire animal justice, from offal to meat to fat to bones. Tony Chittum of Dish and Notti Bianche, uses the legs along with pork fat and pork meat for a terrine, crisps the skin of the breasts for a salad, and finishes with a few slices of seared foie gras. Ethan McKee of Equinox, cures the breasts to further develop their flavor and texture in a duck "prosciutto" and serves it with foie gras-filled pickled cherries.


Duck Confit with Fingerling Potatoes and Bacon in Broth
Chefs Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts of Amuse Café - Venice, CA

» Foie Gras Terrine, Herb and Apple Salad and Doktorenhof Dandelion Vinegar Gelée
Chef Willis Loughhead of Bizcaya Grill - Miami, FL

» Duck Breast Salad with Seared Sonoma Valley Foie Gras, Green Apples, and Pickled Shallots
Chef Sergio Sigala of Casa Tua - Miami Beach, FL

» Pickled Bing Cherries with Foie Gras and Duck Prosciutto
Ethan McKee of Equinox - Washington DC

» Duck with Chicory, Cherries and Green Peppercorns
Tony Chittum of Dish and Notti Bianche - Washington DC


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