Saturday, August 23, 2008

It Ain’t Wabbit Season, Ducky

Well, dear readers, I’ve cooked my first duck. Such an assertion, thankfully, lacks the ominous ring of “My goose is cooked.” But I’m not going to lie: there were challenges. First difficulty was locating duck legs. Darling Jamie Oliver (if you’re not sweet on him—be ye male or female—you’re either dead or you claim British citizenship), whose recipe I’m following, advocates duck legs. But he also encourages me not to shy away from the purchase of a whole duck.

So I checked my local Harris Teeter. No duck. Weaver Street Market had a frozen duck, but I left it alone. (Truth be told, I’m a little miffed at them for eliminating their fresh fish counter.) On the hunt, I headed out to Whole Foods, feeling confident that their vast selection of proteins would fit the bill (so to speak). Sure, they had a frozen whole duck, too, but I had visions of fresh duck, newly cleavered, and ready to cook. I spoke to the butcher, and it turns out they’re between duck sources. So now I’m fairly convinced that adorable Jamie has an easier time finding duck than I do. Since I wasn’t ready to bag my own waterfowl, I bought the frozen version. And I cut it up myself. Not bad for an amateur, huh?

The other difficulty with duck (connected, I suspect, to its lack of ready availability for consumption) is our American tendency to anthropomorphize it. How many fictional ducks populate our culture, anyway? Donald, Daisy, Daffy, McScrooge, and those three little nephews all come to mind. And I’m not too embarrassed to mention Disco Duck, Howard the Duck, and Ernie’s rubber ducky. When I told my daughter what kind of fatty bird I was preparing, she lamented, “Oh, poor little ducky!” (She didn’t eat any of this duck, but her abstinence is attributable more to her five-year-old pickiness than her budding vegetarianism).

(Although my topic is duck and not chicken, my son wants me to mention that he finds it jarring and bad business when poultry establishments use a talking chicken to sell their fried legs and wings. DS: “What are they suggesting? Is the chicken saying: ‘Please buy a big bucket of me?’” In his view, Chick-Fil-A trumped all competition when it got bovine to shill for them.)

Always amiable Jamie has assured me (in his cute mockney accent) that plums would be “wicked” with this duck. And what do you know? Weaver Street Market has beautiful organic plums on sale. It’s kismet. Me, plums, and Jamie. Lovely jubbly.

Here’s the recipe (in some of my own words) from Jamie’s Dinners:

Sweet Duck Legs Cooked With Plums and Star Anise

4 fat legs of duck (I used 2 legs, 2 breasts, and 2 wings)

4 Tablespoons of soy sauce

3 teaspoons of five-spice powder

A handful of star anise

½ stick of cinnamon (I threw in a whole stick)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1-2 fresh chilies, deseeded and sliced

16 plums, halved and destined

1 Tablespoons of Demerara or raw sugar

Place the duck legs in a plastic bag with the soy sauce, five-spice powder, star anise, cinnamon stick and olive oil. Marinate them in the fridge for 2 hours (or up to 2 days). Use high-sided roasting pan or casserole, so that the duck legs fit snugly. Place the chilies, plums, and sugar in the bottom the pan, pour in the marinade from the bag, and mix it all up with your hands. Place the duck legs on top.

Cook in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for 2 to 2 ½ hours. Remove the star anise and cinnamon stick, then taste the sauce to see if needs seasoning with more soy sauce.

Cheeky Jamie recommends wrapping the duck and sauce in Chinese pancakes, but all I could find were egg roll wrappers. Alas, they had the wrong consistency. Perpetually cheery Jamie also advises serving the dish with rice or noodles, which I will try next time.

Jamie’s my mate, you know. He’d never steer me wrong.

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