Food for Thought
---- — Whether shotguns, swamps, dogs and duck-blinds are your thing, or if you only browse the packaged Muscovy breasts beside the chicken in the grocery store, “Duck, Duck, Goose,” by Hank Shaw, is a cookbook you should own.
Shaw’s first book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook,” took us fishing, hunting and foraging. “Duck, Duck, Goose,” is everything we need to know about hunting, buying, and cooking these fowl, wild and domestic. Shaw’s a serious hunter and cook, but he’s also a journalist. He can write a book that makes this cook, who will never step into a pair of waders, stay up late reading about how best to stock a duck blind. His writing sings of the outdoors and the kitchen.
I’ve learned more helpful lessons on exactly how to prepare a duck breast, with skin or without, how to render duck fat, why duck eggs are different than chicken eggs (larger, larger yolks, yolks stand higher when cracked, whites are stiffer) and what is the difference between a Moulard and a Muscovy with “Duck, Duck, Goose” as my bedside reading. My copy is already tattered, a sign of love and usefulness.
And I’ve learned things that I will most likely never need to know, like a solid roster of wild birds, how to hang, pluck and eviscerate them, or how to make goose neck sausages (the ultimate natural casing.) I’ve learned that we like to eat birds — even chicken — that feed on seeds because these fowl fatten well and don’t taste “off.” (We really like birds that have spent the day in a rice field.) Gadwalls, “a duck lover’s bird,” prefer stems and reeds to seeds; they stink when eviscerated.
Duck meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free.
I’ve learned that geese are one of our oldest domesticated animals, but they are traditionally difficult to raise, and fatten. To the former point, they only lay eggs once a year, while ducks and chickens lay year-round. To the latter point, it requires 7 pounds of feed to put on a pound of goose meat; geese grow slowly. Attempts to create breeds that grow faster are undermined by those short goose legs, which can’t support a quickly heaving breast. Still, Shaw quotes Jim Schlitz of Schlitz Goose Farm, “slow growing birds taste better.”
Shaw’s main point about cooking duck is that it’s more helpful to think of it as beef rather than fowl; the breast is steak; the rest of the bird is the brisket.
The skin is what makes duck truly special, Shaw reminds; duck confit, the French preserve of duck skin and leg cooked slowly in its own fat, “has become many a chef’s deathbed meal.”
“Cooking duck is not rocket science;” the book’s primary goal is to make that little bit of specialized duck cooking knowledge accessible; my favorite Shaw line here: “to free ourselves from the Tyranny of Chicken.”
There are plenty of “I dare you!” recipes for fowl geeks, such as corned gizzards — cooked in duck fat for a day, glazed in malt vinegar dressing and served with cabbage buds. Or Crispy Duck Tongues, or Duck Heart Tartare Puttanesca.
But there are luscious recipes for people like me who are romantic and only occasionally that ambitious. I will definitely be making Duck Fat Saffron Aioli, Duck Eggs Benedict (with duck fat hollandaise and duck sausage), Duck Egg Pasta, and Duck Egg Cake with Rosemary very soon. I’ve marked a cooking calendar — “To Make” — with Duck Risotto, Duck Chili, Italian Duck Meatballs, Goose Stew with Barley and Celery Root, and French Duck Wing Soup. This is a book with which to head into winter.
Reading about Shaw and his girlfriend, Holly Heyser, whose crisp, bright photography illustrates the book, standing in a California swamp, shooting a fat gadwall hen (Heyser brought that one down), or the thrill of the dog returning to the duck blind with a fallen bird, which turns out to be the treasured Canvasback, is keeping me up late these nights. (The king of ducks, the Canvasback feeds on wild celery, producing a flavor Shaw declares better than the finest rib-eye.) So, I haven’t been more ambitious than the following recipe.
For it alone — Duck Bulgogi —the book is worth it. This recipe makes ordinary grocery store duck breast a fabulous, easy, fast — did I say fabulous — did I say fast? — weeknight dinner. Consider it just one drop in the vast ocean of duck and goose inspiration here. As Shaw recommends, “mastering these birds will make you a more competent carnivore.”
Duck Bulgogi, from Hank Shaw’s “Duck, Duck, Goose”
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
2 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
2 pounds skinless duck breasts
Kimchi and cooked white rice, for serving
Black sesame seeds, for garnish, optional
In a blender, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, onions, ginger, garlic, and sugar and puree until smooth. Put the duck breasts in a container just large enough to accommodate them, pour in the marinade, and turn to coat evenly. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
When you are ready to cook, set up the grill as directed on page 62.* Remove the duck breasts from the marinade, pat dry, and set aside. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan, bring to a boil over medium high heat, and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm..
Coat the duck breasts with a little oil as directed in the grilling instructions, then grill as directed.
Transfer the duck breasts to a cutting board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice the breasts thinly and arrange on dinner plates along with the kimchi and rice. Drizzle the hot marinade over the duck, then sprinkle the sesame seeds over everything. Serve with a cold lager or pilsner.
*Note: “Duck, Duck, Goose” is available at local bookstores. Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester also has copy if you would to see Shaw’s complete grilling instructions.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought column weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.