Food + Beverage

Duck is the New Pig

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Everyone’s favorite instructor at the New England Culinary Institute, the bespectacled, white-haired Michel LeBorgne was a fan of a truism common to chefs: fat is flavor. 

While the pig may be the undisputed champion of animal fat, the duck, pound for pound, is a worthy competitor. Pork has played a central role in America’s culinary awakening of the last 20 or so years. Artisan bacon, domestic guincale, prosciutto, and sopressata, wooly pigs, and delicious bacon jam. Recently though, it finds itself in applications squarely on the wrong side of the shark: bacon vodka, doughnuts, cupcakes, and less-than-delicious bacon jam.

Enter duck. Fatty and delicious? Check. Culturally relevant to most great world cuisines? Check. Readily available and not too pricey? Check. Overused by every too-clever-by-half, ironically-mustachioed, fixed-gear riding, butcher chart-tattooed chef in _______ and _______ [take your pick of trendy neighborhoods]? Not just yet.

Duck confit is more than delicious. It’s transcendent.

Michael Ruhlman writes elegantly about this in the introduction to his excellent book Charcuterie. Confited duck leg is fatty, salty, rich, meaty, and satisfying in ways usually reserved for pork. And, in the continuum of DIY advanced cooking techniques, it’s also pretty easy to do. Whole pigs require extensive knowledge of animal anatomy, a full complement of kitchen implements from saws to sausage stuffers, a chest freezer, and a whole lot of time. Whole ducks require a sharp knife, a little practice, and a couple of friends with healthy appetites.

On a recent weekend we had 8 ducks shipped up from Liberty Ducks in Sonoma for our annual Duckapalooza event. We dispatched the carcasses over the first glasses of wine, separating legs, breasts, fat, and bone into piles destined for separate, but equally tasty final products.

At the end of the weekend (and several more glasses of wine), we had earthenware filled with confit, paper wrapped ham, potted gizzard, cubes of frozen demi-glace, and a handful of cracklings for the ferry ride. The range of flavors and textures coaxed from domestic water fowl is impressive. The only ingredients not included in the body itself are salt, smoke, and handful of common kitchen herbs and vegetables for flavoring.

Porky deserves the time he has spent in the spotlight, but whether you shoot him now or wait til you get home, it’s time for Daffy’s day in the sun.