Thursday, May 22, 2008

ducked up

I was excited. I was finally gonna get back in the kitchen and make something spectacular and fancy AND delicious. The ducks had been in the freezer longer than I care to admit. I wanted to do right by them. I'd never cooked wild duck. Jack was familiar, as he'd grown up hunting them. But his family always ate them fried. My ducks needed more excitement than that. Then the friend who had killed the fine-feathered fellas gave me a recipe from the book Gourmet Gone Wild. “Chinese Mahogany Mallard” sounded like perfection. I had no more excuses. The quackers came out of the freezer.

Lemme post this recipe so you know what I was in for.

Chinese Mahogany Mallard

2 4-pound oven-ready mallard duck
3 teaspoons salt

Basting sauce

1 cup dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
¼ cup dark corn syrup
¼ cup rice wine or dry sherry
2 Tablespoons oil
1 Teaspoon garlic powder
2 Tablespoon Hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 star anises
1 teaspoon crushed red peppercorns

Clean the Ducks well. Remove the wing tips and the lumps of fat from inside the vent. Blanch in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, remove, and dry well. Rub the ducks with salt inside and out, and refrigerate overnight.
For the basting sauce: Heat all the ingredients, bring to a boil, and blend well. Set aside. When the ducks are ready, brush the basting sauce all over them; give them several coatings. Then let them dry, uncovered, in a cool and airy place, such as the refrigerator, for at least 4 to 5 hours.
To cook: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange oven racks so the ducks will fit on the top rack of the oven. To catch drips and prevent smoking, place a large tray or shallow pan with 1 inch of water on the bottom rack of the oven under the ducks. Roast the duck for 30 minutes. Baste again and reduce oven to 350 degrees. Roast for another 60 minutes or until done, basting with the remaining sauce every 20 minutes.
To serve: Let the ducks cool down a little, and chop them into bite size pieces. Serve hot or cold with steamed white rice. Reduce the extra basting liquid and serve as a sauce or dip.

Okay, got that? So first off, my ducks were serious. They were wild and were killed all gangsta-like. They were mostly cleaned for me, but both still had one feathery wing attached, as per a law or something…to prove they were of legal sex and species…or something…I’m not a hunter…I don’t know. All I knew was “EW! YIKES! FEATHERS!!!”. I grabbed my non-existent cajones and chopped them wings right off. Manly. Then I blanched the wingless ducks. It smelled pretty good…that quick moment of boiling. Like a strong chicken stock or something. Ohhh…exciting. This was going to be good. The salt rubbing commenced. Rub and wait. That’s life, no?

After all the macho plucking and hacking and rubbing, I made the basting sauce. I made it according to the recipe exactly, except I was not able to find red peppercorns, so I used plain old black pepper and a pinch of “chilly powder” from the Indian store. Note that I did not properly “taste as you go” when I put this together….

So a day in the fridge, all salty, I pulled out the Ducks the next morning and brushed the sauce all over them. It was oily, the sauce and the duck skin, but most of it stuck. I put the basted beauties back in the fridge while I went to work for the day.

All day at work I was so excited to get home. I was gonna cook wild duck. It was gonna be Asian and it was gonna be AWESOME. Primo Duck, y’all. I had planned to make coconut rice, in which I merely replaced some of the cooking water with coconut milk, and some baby bok choy. It was gonna be a masterpiece. 2 days in the making.

As the recipe says, I roasted the ducks on a high heat for a while, basted them again, turned down the heat, and roasted them some more and basted them some more. Meanwhile I had burnt the HELL out of the coconut rice. You see, there is this one burner on our stove that heats up fast and heats up hot…too hot. I use it to boil water quickly. I should NOT use it to make rice. It is a rice assassin. Kills rice. Dead.

Our stainless steel pan is still recovering…it has tiny oblong black polka dots right now. Effing rice murdering burner. The rice was upsetting, but not the end of the world. I had back-up in the form of Noodles. Noodles to the rescue! After stir-frying the bok choy in oil, sesame oil, sesame seeds, fresh garlic and ginger, and soy sauce, I tossed some cellophane noodles around in the same pan. Boom. Two complimentary side-dishes to what were sure to be my perfect Chinese duckies.
I followed the recipe after all. It had taken two days afterall. The duckies LOOKED good:


“I think these are freezer-burned.” I hear Jack say, amidst the sweet-bitter smell of burnt coconut rice and my own sweat. So I tasted some. Blech!

Son of a BLEEP !!!

Yup, the tangy-yuck taste of old refrozen ice permeated my labored-over ducks. We peeled the fatty skin off…which helped. Unfortunately, all the work of overnight refrigeration and marinating and such was for flavor on the SKIN. All for naught. We could only eat the dark flesh…which was slightly less blechy. I tried dipping it in the basting sauce, hoping it would make up for the lack of the primo skin and fat. The basting sauce, however, had turned out too salty. Of course.

Cooking this made me sweaty. It frustrated me. I had high hopes, and they were dashed by such silly things as freezer burn , burned rice and over-salty sauce. Shenannigans!!

So…not an iron stef-worthy dish. BUT, not every cooking excursion can be perfect. There are lessons to be learned…right? So, I had to share…especially after being inspired by Thursday Night Smackdown’s recent Morimoto fiasco. She is much more funny and potty-mouthed than I (cussing does not become me…I have tried…It looks silly on me, for real)…but it’s people like her who help me through such kitchen issues…you gotta laugh at yourself. In fact here are some past Iron Stef “learning experiences:”
Almost delicious split-pea soup, How to ruin a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and my first beef stock.

These mother duckers did not ruin my life…they merely made for a not-so-yummy meal. It was a meal none-the-less…right? There was baby bok-choy…so it wasn’t a total loss…

Anyway, there have been much worse duck disasters:


Anonymous said...

You certainly have the right attitude to prevail in the kitchen. I will be gald to give you some more ducks when the season returns so you can conquer the mountain. I firmly believe that you cannot prepare anything to your best ability unless you have had it go awry. That is when the real learning process begins by understanding why it did not give you the expected results. Duck soup could be an option for the leftover meat...waste not....You will have better luck next time I am sure!

Anonymous said...

I am sorry about your duck loss. While I can't offer suggestions as to how fix freezer burn, try some Bar Keepers Friend on your scorched stainless steel pot! Our cookware looks brand new even after a few years of use.

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