Fall is the time for fowl, and whether you bagged it yourself or at the market, there's a new book to help you get it on the table.
Hank Shaw is the author of "Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated." It is a lavishly illustrated guide to preparing waterfowl. The former Pioneer Press reporter is also now a James Beard award-winning food blogger. He spoke with MPR's Tom Crann to share some recipes and cooking techniques.
TOM CRANN: For those of us who haven't had duck or goose, what are we missing out on?
HANK SHAW: The reason why I wrote the book and why I am so excited about ducks and geese is because, in many ways, they are the new "pig." They have that varied flavor in the different cuts of meat, and from a cook's perspective, there are all kinds of textures, flavors, and fat contents to play with in store-bought ducks and geese, and they become more varied when you bring wild birds into the mix.
CRANN: So, what is the difference between how they are raised?
SHAW: Well, wild birds are wild birds, but domestic ducks and geese can be raised in different ways. Producers can range from intensive duck farms which produce the typical supermarket Pekin Duck, to very low volume, artisanal farmers who are raising heritage breeds that are becoming more commonly found on the market each year. The availability of those rarer ducks and geese are what I am excited about right now.
CRANN: The variety?
SHAW: Yes, and also the quality. The quality is getting so much better every year. I have even seen really good ducks at a farmers' market in Boise, Idaho. So quality fowl are even available in smaller cities.
CRANN: I assume as a hunter yourself, you probably have a preference for cooking wild birds, right?
SHAW: Actually, there is a particular domesticated bird that Ariane Daguin from D'Artagnan, an epicurean natural meat producer, raises a proprietary breed called a Rohan Duck that looks like a giant Mallard Duck. It is the Goldilocks duck — it is the perfect size, with the perfect color of meat, with just a touch of gaminess, and a great layer of fat. It has all the best aspects of a wild bird, and all the best things about a domesticated duck in one package.
CRANN: If you don't hunt yourself, where is the best place to get a good goose or duck?
SHAW: Any decent butcher shop should have Muscovy Duck legs, Magret Duck breasts, and whole Pekin Ducks available. If they don't have fowl on hand, every butcher I have talked to said they could get it.
CRANN: Are ducks and geese interchangeable in a recipe?
SHAW: You can, but with some modifications. Geese and ducks taste a little different from each other and geese are a bit bigger, and they tend to be a bit fattier. But, their differences are not radical. The comparisons are closer to the differences between grass-fed and grain-finished beef than the differences between beef and lamb.
CRANN: Now, I love chicken of all kinds, I love turkey, but I have to admit that I am less enthusiastic about duck. How would you sell me on duck?
SHAW: First, I would cook it for you!
SHAW: Well, one thing about ducks and geese that many people get caught up on is the desire to have that beautiful, whole roast duck or roast goose. It is absolutely doable, but there is some prestidigitation required to pull it off correctly.
Here is my secret for cooking ducks and geese — they are not birds, they are beef! They look like birds, but they cook like beef.
CRANN: Interesting, hence the rareness. You point out in your book that you want to sear it, but keep it rare.
SHAW: Right, you want your duck and goose breasts cooked like a steak. You know, goose breast like a London Broil. Then, cook the legs and wings like brisket, heated slow and low with the meat coming off the bone. If you remember that, you are 90-percent of the way there.
CRANN: Then, what is your favorite recipe for creating converts?
SHAW: I think the easiest and best way is something that I do maybe a 100 times a year, is just seared duck breasts. You take skin-on, fat-on duck breasts and cook them so the skin is crackly, like bacon. Then, you flip it over and cook it just to the doneness of your favorite steak. After that, all it needs is some black pepper, salt, maybe a bit of lemon — you could sauce it — but, if you really want to get the pure experience, I could do that and make a convert out of almost anybody.
CRANN: How about at Thanksgiving, if you wanted to replace the traditional turkey with a duck or goose. Is that a good idea?
SHAW: Yes, but you just need to remember a couple things. The first is a great German expression, "Ah, Geese, too much for one, not enough for two." But, in reality a goose will serve about six, so you may want to get two if you have a bigger gathering. The other thing to remember is: you need to take the breasts off mid-stream, as it is roasting. Then, finish the breasts in a pan right before you are ready to serve.
CRANN: So, you can't just put it in the oven and leave it until it is all done?
SHAW: You can, roasting whole is a legitimate method of cooking ducks and geese, but I do not like the breast meat cooked all the way through. To me, the breasts taste a bit livery cooked well-done, I prefer them cooked medium.
Selected recipes from "Duck, Duck Goose"
DUCK FAT VINAIGRETTE
Makes about 1 cup
Prep time: 10 minutes
I can — and have — made this salad dressing in my sleep. It is my go-to for the annual Duck Hunter's Dinners we throw at our home; to get a seat at the table, you must be a duck hunter, or accompanied by one. At these dinners I unleash whatever crazy new duck recipes I've been working on during the season, and this dressing is the only constant: at some point in the multicourse meal, there will be a simple salad of bitter greens, dressed with this vinaigrette.
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup duck fat, warmed
In a blender, combine the mustard, shallot, salt, sugar, and lemon juice, cover, and buzz on high speed to combine. Turn down the speed to low, remove the lid, and slowly pour in the duck fat. Re-cover, turn the speed to high, and blend for 30 seconds.
Use at once, or refrigerate for up to a week.
CONFIT OF DUCK WITH PASTA AND LEMON
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
This is one of my favorite things to do with duck confit. It is a sumptuous pasta dish that has its origins in old Venice, where it is traditionally served with tagliatelle, a long, flat pasta. If you can't find tagliatelle, shoot for linguine, spaghetti, or pappardelle.
Make sure you have all of the ingredients prepped before you start cooking, as this dish comes together quickly. Have the water boiling, and give it plenty of salt; you want it to taste of the sea.
2 confit duck legs (recipe in "Duck, Duck Goose")
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon duck fat, or as needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound fresh tagliatelle
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated lemon zest, for garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile, pick all of the meat off the duck legs and reserve the skin. Tear the meat and skin into small pieces. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon duck fat, and the duck meat and skin. Turn the heat down to medium.
Generously salt the boiling water, then add the pasta and stir well.
Add the garlic to the sauté pan and mix well. Watch the garlic: the moment it begins to brown, turn off the heat.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it into a colander, then add it to the saute pan. Alternatively, use tongs to transfer it from the boiling water to the saute pan. Turn on the heat to medium and toss the pasta to coat well with all of the ingredients, adding more duck fat if the mixture seems too dry. Season with pepper, add 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, and toss again. Taste and add the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice if you want. Serve immediately, garnished with the lemon zest.
LAOTIAN DUCK SALAD
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
This is larb, one of the most famous dishes of Southeast Asia. It is a spectacular hot-weather salad, normally served with beef, chicken, or seafood. Duck larb does exist, however, in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. The list of ingredients is long, but the hardest part about making this recipe is chopping the herbs and vegetables. It's really that easy.
2 tablespoons short-grain white rice
1-1/2 to 2 pounds skinless duck breasts
2 tablespoons duck fat or vegetable oil
1 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup loosely packed chopped fresh mint
1 lemongrass stalk, white bulblike part only, trimmed, outer leaves discarded, and minced
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 4 small fresh hot chiles, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
In a small, dry sauté pan over medium-high heat, toast the rice, shaking the pan often, for 4 to 5 minutes, until it browns. Pour onto a plate to cool, then grind coarsely in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Ready the remaining ingredients.
Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels. In a large sauté pan, heat the duck fat over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the breasts skinned side down and sear for 3 minutes. Flip and finish cooking according to your liking, using the finger test for doneness and salting to taste. Transfer the duck to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes.
While the duck rests, in a bowl, combine the ground rice, cilantro, mint, lemongrass, shallots, green onions, garlic, chiles to taste, ginger, lime zest and juice, fish sauce, sugar, and sesame oil and mix well.
When the duck is ready, you can either slice or mince it; mincing is more traditional. Add the duck, plus any accumulated juices, to the bowl holding the rest of the salad and mix well. Serve with an ice-cold lager or pilsner.
BUFFALO DUCK WINGS
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus 1 hour for marinating
Cook time: 3 hours
Football is one of the only sports I get worked up about, and Buffalo wings are my go-to snack for game day. Named for the city in upstate New York, not the bison--which, as you may know, lacks wings--Buffalo wings are essentially a way to eat the least desirable part of the chicken: marinate the wings in a hot sauce, roast or fry them, toss them in some more sauce, and serve them with blue cheese dressing and a few celery sticks.
What's not to love? Actually, quite a lot. I have eaten scores of crappy wings, where the skin is flabby or the meat isn't done enough. I've worked hard to perfect my wing recipe, and for duck wings the trick is to simmer the wings in stock for a couple of hours and then roast them in the oven.
If you are a hunter who has saved the wings of many ducks, you're in business. If you are not a hunter, you can buy duck wings at Asian markets ridiculously cheap: big bags go for something like five bucks. That's a lot of yummy protein for a low price — and we can all use a good deal these days.
2 pounds duck wings, separated into drumettes and tips
4 cups Basic Duck Stock (page 222) or chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup hot-pepper sauce (such as Frank's or Tabasco's Buffalo style)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or duck fat, melted, or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Celery sticks, for serving
In a large Dutch oven or large, heavy pot with a lid, combine the wings and stock. If the wings are not fully submerged, add water as needed to cover by about 1/2 inch. Toss in the bay, cover, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for at least 1-1/2 hours or up to 3 hours. You want the meat on the wings to be thinking about falling off the bone. The wings from domesticated ducks will be on the short end of this spectrum; the wings from wild ducks will be on the other end of the time spectrum.
Remove the pot from the heat and drain the wings. In a container large enough to hold all of the wings, mix together the hot-pepper sauce, paprika, butter, and salt. Add the wings and toss to coat them evenly. Let the wings marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator. The longer you marinate the wings, the hotter they will be.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Oil 1 or 2 baking sheets. Remove the wings from the marinade and arrange them in a single layer on the pan(s). Pour the marinade into a small saucepan and set aside.
Roast the wings for 30 to 45 minutes, until crispy. Turn them after the first 15 minutes, and then start watching them after 30 minutes to make sure you get the crispiness you want.
While the wings are roasting, make the sauce. In a small bowl, stir together the cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise, mixing well.
Just before the wings are ready, bring the marinade to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
When the wings are done, remove them from the oven, transfer to a shallow bowl, add the hot marinade, and toss to coat evenly. Serve at once with the sauce and celery. Oh yeah, and with beer--lots of beer.
ITALIAN DUCK MEATBALLS
Makes 20-25 large meatballs; Serves 8-10
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 25 minutes
Spaghetti with meat sauce is one of my most favorite things in the world. And I'm talking about those giant, juicy Italian American meatballs: plenty of fat, and a fine grind. Lean meatballs suck.
Perfect meatballs are not all meat, although that might seem counterintuitive. To achieve that pillowy, yet substantial texture in a perfect meatball, you must add bread to the mixture. You also want to work the ingredients together gently, and not completely. It is okay to have some uneven spots. It makes things more interesting. Think cake, not bread. Do not squeeze.
You need to fry the meatballs before finishing them in sauce. And when I say "fry," I mean fry, not sauté. This means you must use lots of oil. Meatballs require the buoyancy of hot fat. Don't worry, you can strain the oil and reuse it later, say, for the velveting step in Sichuan Fragrant Duck (found in "Duck, Duck, Goose").
The fried meatballs can be used right away, or they can be cooled, packed into an airtight container, and refrigerated for a week or frozen for several months. Serve the meatballs in any tomato sauce. The Duck Arrabbiata Pasta Sauce (found in "Duck, Duck, Goose") is ideal. Red wine is a must, preferably a Chianti or other Sangiovese, a Pinot Noir, a Merlot, or a Cotes du Rhone blend.
3 pounds skinless duck breasts, ground with 1 pound pork fat
2/3 cup milk
3 slices stale good-quality bread, crusts removed and torn into pieces
2 cups dried bread crumbs
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Vegetable oil (such as safflower or olive), for frying
If the ground meat is not already in the refrigerator, put it in the refrigerator to chill.
Pour the milk into a small saucepan and set it over low heat. Add the bread to the pan and it will begin to absorb the milk. When it absorbs all of the milk, remove the pan from the heat and mash the moistened bread into a paste. Let cool to room temperature.
Put the bread crumbs in a shallow bowl. Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper. Take the meat out of the refrigerator, place it in a large bowl, and scatter the salt, pepper, fennel seeds, thyme, garlic, and cheese on top. Crack the eggs into the bowl, then pour in the bread-milk mixture. With clean hands, gently mix everything together. Do not knead the mixture like bread, and do not squeeze the ingredients together. Just gently work the mixture: think cake, not bread.
When it is mostly combined, grab a palmful and roll it into a ball between your palms, not with your fingers. You want a nice round ball about 2 to 3 inches in diameter that just barely holds together. Gently roll the meatball in the bread crumbs and place on the prepared baking sheet. (You may need to reshape the balls before you put them on the baking sheet.) Repeat with the remaining meat mixture. If you have time, refrigerate the meatballs for 1 hour to firm them up.
Get a large pan ready; I use a cast-iron frying pan. Place it over medium-high heat and pour in oil to a depth of about 1/2 inch. I use a combination of safflower oil and olive oil. The oil is ready when a drop of flour splashed into it immediately sizzles away. Add the meatballs to the pan, being careful not to crowd them. You want the oil to come about halfway up the sides of the meatballs. Add a little more oil if necessary. (Don't worry, you can strain the oil and put it to other uses.) You want a strong sizzle, not an inferno, so you may need to lower the heat to medium. Fry the meatballs for 4 to 6 minutes. You are looking for the first side to be golden brown. Turn the meatballs only once, and fry the second side for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown.
When the meatballs are ready, set them on paper towels on a wire rack on a baking sheet to drain, then use or store as directed in the headnote.
Recipes reprinted with permission from "Duck, Duck, Goose" by Hank Shaw, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.