I just love my duck
Duck is a winter tradition of ours, and it’s that time again. No matter that I inhaled my share of duck fumes, cooking up an insane amount of duck during the holiday season, I have a few more weeks yet of bathing in duck fat with our duck themed dinners running at the table champêtre.. Duck menu at Les Jardins Sauvages
But really, I don’t mind; duck is hard to tire of. It is hands down the best meat, so flavourful and versatile in its many forms, not to mention local, healthy and relatively easy to cook. Susan Semenak makes a case for duck (with my help) in this Montreal Gazette article..
Every year, I change up the seven course menu, playing with four breeds and all their parts, the eggs, the skin, broth etc.. And the marvellous fat of course.. Duck fat is my all-purpose cooking fat in winter, rendered from the carcasses and skin. I like to smoke it too, to have a block ready on hand for introducing that ‘bacon’ taste when you don't want the pigginess.
For sure, there are standards that come back every year or two but always treated differently. For instance duck confit has to be present, but it might be as rillettes, in a salad, in cassoulet or choucroute, say.. Charcuterie (duck proscuito, smoked duck, jerky, sausage) as well as Foie gras, hot and cold are always featured, but with various seasonings and accompaniments.
Soup wise, I can’t help but feel the need to go with a consommé, which is pure essence of duck. Duck broth is my base of choice (instead of chicken) year round and makes a great creamy soup or vegetable purée type as well, but I just love consommé; the extra steps are worth it. I clarify the duck stock with more duck (ground) and duck egg whites(keeping the yolks for the garnish or dessert, adding aromates of choice to the clarification raft. This time around it will be surprise, surprise – wild mushrooms!
I used to put a whole duck egg on the menu as a second or third entrée - shirred, baked or poached - so delicious and appreciated by most customers but it is a bit much at 80-100g, like 2 chicken eggs.. In the last few years, I have favoured using egg as a component, going with a frittata, tortilla, egg crepe or an egg garnish.. This way the poor customer has a better chance of making it to the end. This year’s egg ‘noodle’ originated from a kind of accident turned experiment. One day, I had an excess of egg yolks so froze them and saw that they turned opaque, almost half cooked. Intrigued by this egg paste, I incorporated some fat and flavour (easily emulsified) and cooked up the cake sousvide/in a bain marie and loved the silky terrine results. A myriad of possibilities opened up: carpaccio, sheets, terrine, skin, slivers, and noodles!
Obviously, there has to be a ducky salad of some kind on any night, as close to a signature I get in my relentless motion. A classic at the restaurant anytime of year is the duck heart and gizzard salad, but it was time to give it a rest. François loves Caesar. If the rest of the menu isn’t too heavy, I can swing it, replacing bacon with my house smoked duck, using some of the duck yolks from before in the dressing, kick it up with crinkleroot and cook the croutons in duck fat.. switch up the capers for pickled daisy buds.
I’m done with cassoulet for a while, but now choucroute is my coup de Coeur of ducky winter dishes, including the incontournable confit and homemade duck sausage. Besides, I love cabbage and I’m into fermentation ever since my killer green beans from two summers ago.. As with proscuito, fermenting things is more conveniently a winter project when the room temp is easier to control and I have time to be patient and play around.. I haven’t had much success yet with cabbage, but I’ll get there..
I felt like doing a fried chicken type of entrée for a change, or maybe something like ‘General Tao’ -any thing fried being a crowd pleaser. I’m constantly looking for novel ways beyond jerky to put the filets that I remove from the breast.to good use. And since duck is such a natural with ‘asian’ flavourings like soy, ginger, anise etc, there needs to be at least one course that goes in that direction. The duck fingers with wild ginger sauce below (or nuggets as Melinda coined them) was the result – and a staff favourite so far..
Besides a Ferme Morgan’s supreme pan-roasted with a fruity-spicy sauce of some sort, definite musts on the menu, too decadent and delicious to pass on, are duck fat potatoes and the cracklings made from the skin. I once served these as an amuse with the aperitif, bad idea! Everyone ate way too many of them. That’s another preferred snack among the waitresses that I have to keep an eye on, ‘Ca goutte le ciel, as Julie says.
To wind down the feast, there are inevitably duck egg desserts; one using the luxurious yolks, the other riffing on the springy whites. Watch out, these protein-rich whites make a surprisingly airy meringue!
As you can see, the possibilities with duck are endless. And with this cold weather, duck is just what the doctor ordered.
Here are some easy recipes (below) in case you are inspired to cook up some of this local-heart healthy meat over the winter.
Now that many duck products are quite widely available – duck stock, duck fat, confit duck, smoked duck etc.., there is no need for you to get into tricky stuff like charcuterie, making consommé, rendering fat even how to confit duck legs or making stock to enjoy a gourmet meal. It’s ok if you leave that time-consuming, messy stuff to us - the producers, chefs and butchers, the duck store (Le Canard Libéré on St-Laurent)..
Of course, you can always go all out and treat yourself to the ultimate ‘duck’ experience at Les Jardins Sauvages! Until February 3rd..
Duck confit salad with ‘chimichurri’
3L wild/mixed greens (or romaine, watercress, endive)
400g cooked confit duck gizzards and hearts (or confit duck leg meat)
100g smoked duck magret, julienne
300g (1) potato (cubes)
250ml duck fat
120ml vinaigrette ‘chimichurri’ sauvage (spicy garlic and wild herb vinaigrette)*
100ml pickled mushrooms
2 scallions, chopped
au goût mushroom salt (or sea salt) & pepper
Heat duck fat in sturdy pot and add potato; cook gently on stovetop or in oven for 30min. Drain, season and finish in oven on baking sheet to crisp up.
Prepare greens (wash and dry, tear or chop).
Reheat the gizzards in some duck fat gently, or if in a vacuum pack, by submerging it in hot water 5min.
Toss the greens with scallions and half the vinaigrette, adding more vinaigrette and seasoning to taste.
Serve warm gizzards and potatoes on top. Garnish with smoked duck and pickled mushrooms.
*A garlicky red wine vinaigrette I make (and we sell) with wild garlic, chilli and a bunch of wild herbs (sea parsley, lovage, crinkleroot, garlic mustard leaf, bee balm..); could be replaced with any punchy vinaigrette that is sharp and slightly sweet with added herbs and garlic.
Duck Caesar salad with crinkleroot
3L wild/mixed greens (romaine, endive, watercress)
100g smoked duck magret, julienne
2c day old bread (cubes)
60ml duck fat
wild herb salt (or sea salt)
chopped herbs of choice
100g Capra or aged cheese of choice (that grates well)
2 scallions, chopped
20ml pickled daisy buds or capers
Crinkleroot Caesar dressing:
2tsp each minced garlic and crinkleroot
50ml minced anchovy (3-4)
3 egg yolks
1tsp crinkleroot mustard or Dijon
30ml white wine vinegar/lemon juice
30ml pickled daisy buds
60ml grapeseed oil
Extra lemon to taste
Make croutons by tossing bread in rendered duck fat, season with salt and dried herbs, cook in oven at 350F for 15-20min or until golden and crunchy.
Make vinaigrette by mixing ingredients in a blender. Or combine yolks, garlic and mustard, half of lemon juice and slowly whisk in grapeseed oil. Add rest of lemon juice and continue with olive oil. Thin with a touch of oil or water to desired consistency. Season to taste.
Toss greens with half of vinaigrette, some of the cheese, s&p; adding more vinaigrette to taste. Plate salad and top with smoked duck, croutons and remaining cheese. Sprinkle extra daisy buds around.
Pan-seared duck supreme with elderberry/flower sauce
2 (1kg) duck supremes, skin side scored; filets kept for another use (Terrine, Jerky or Fried duck)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
100ml honeywine or cider
500ml duck stock
250ml elderberries (or fruit/berry of choice, fresh or frozen)
10g (2Tbsp) elderflower (or peppercorn, juniper or rosemary)
* In a sauce for duck, I like to combine something fruity and something spicy/herbal added later; instead of elderberry/flower combo, could be apple (1c chopped whole) and rosemary 2-3 sprigs, blackberry and juniper or raspberry and peppercorn...
Make sauce base: In a medium sauce pot, slowly caramelise shallots in a bit of butter/oil, add thyme and peppercorn and deglaze with wine, reduce down. Add duck stock and elderberries (or berry of choice). Simmer for at least 20min, allowing to reduce slowly. Add elderflower (or rosemary/juniper/herbs of choice) and let sit 5min. Strain.
Trim excess fat of duck supremes if necessary. With Muscovy, it isn’t necessary, but with Moulard or Pekin sometimes; you don’t want more than ½-1 cm/1/4”. So that there is some crispy but not too much flabby fat at end. Scoring with a knife helps the fat render/even cooking.
Heat sauté pan to med-high heat. Season duck supremes and add to pan skin side down (with no added fat). Once you start to see color, turn down to med or lower and cook for 8-10min. You want a slow caramelisation while rendering as much excess fat as possible. Pour off rendered fat a few times during the cooking. Flip and cook for 2-3min. Ideal is medium-rare. Rest in a warm place for 10min before slicing.
Degrease pan and pour in sauce base. Bring to a simmer season to taste, thicken to desired consistency with cornstarch slurry if desired (maybe 1Tbsp), swirl in butter.
Slice duck breast as thinly as possible against the grain of the meat, serve with sauce. Suggested accompaniments: Root vegetables, mushrooms, wild rice..
8 (450g) duck filets (tenderloin) or one duck breast fat removed, sliced in 6x1.5cm thick strips
20g (1 Tbsp) brown sugar
5g (scant tsp) coarse salt
1g ea (generous pinch) pepper, smoked paprika, steak spice
.5g ea (small pinch) cumin, thyme, oregano
big squirt ea soy sauce/tamari
small squirt worchestershire
Toss with seasonings. Refrigerate overnight. Pat dry and put in a 200F on a rack in oven for 2hrs or until desired texture (dry and chewy, still sliceable).
Eat as a snack as is or slice up to garnish a salad, sandwich or canapé. Keep in fridge.
Baked duck egg with mushroom, smoked duck and tomato
6 duck eggs
30ml olive oil
200g wild mushrooms (or cultivated), chopped
2 french shallots, minced
drops lemon juice or cider vinegar/sherry vinegar
100ml heavy cream
5ml mushroom oil (and/or a few drops of truffle oil)
60g smoked duck, julienne
200ml chopped tomato
50ml chopped chives and/or parsley
pinch sugar, s&p, hot sauce
Sauté mushrooms in olive oil over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes; add butter and shallots, turn down to med/low and stew for 10 minutes; season.
Mix cream with mushroom oil (and/or a few drops of truffle oil), season.
Into buttered individual ramekins (4oz), divide mushroom mixture to cover bottom. Crack an egg into each one. Top with a tablespoon or two of cream mixture to cover.
Cook in a 325F oven for 15-20min until just set but still giggly.
Meanwhile prepare tomato salsa garnish. Add a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper to chopped tomato with fresh herbs and a bit of olive oil or mushroom oil, hot sauce to taste.
Serve ramekins of egg topped with salsa and smoked duck julienne.
Fried duck fingers with wild ginger sauce
12 duck filets
1/2c pastry flour (or half flour and cornstarch)
50ml plain yogurt
50ml soy sauce
50ml maple syrup
30ml lime juice
30ml wild ginger mustard
5ml toasted sesame oil
1tsp ea curry, five spice
hot pepper sauce (Sambal or Siracha)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1tsp ea minced garlic, wild ginger
2c duck stock
2 sprigs thyme
1Tbsp± cornstarch slurry
Cut duck filets into 1” thick slivers (in 3).
Mix together marinade ingredients. Use half to season the duck filets, tossing to coat evenly with the yogurt.
Set aside for at least 20 min (or in the fridge hours or overnight).
Make sauce: slowly caramelise shallots in some butter. Add garlic and ginger, sauté a few minutes and add the rest of marinade. Deglaze with stock, reduce down by 1/3. Add thyme and coriander. Keep reducing another 5min to approximately half, tasting along the way. Rectify seasoning, use a little cornstarch slurry to thicken to desired consistency. To finish sauce, strain and swirl in butter off heat. Keep warm.
Pull duck from marinade, pat dry and coat with pastry flour. Fry duck by either deep frying at 350F for 2-3min or by pan-frying in a skillet with a good slick of hot vegetable or peanut oil for 3-4min (1-2 min each side). Remove onto paper towels, and serve with sauce. You can always coat the fried duck in sauce General Tao style but I prefer it separate.
Suggested accompaniments: rice, sautéed mushrooms and mustard greens, or rice noodles, lettuce, red pepper, bean sprouts, coriander and mint.. Could be finger food too!