Roasted Duck

Sometimes I like to think of cutesy-esque headers for each blog post. Roasted duck does not need a cute title. It’s just perfection. Simple, pure perfection.

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I first had duck about two years ago at a Roanoke restaurant called Lucky. Specifically, it was duck leg confit. I remember we visited the restaurant sometime near winter, which means some cold weather in Southwest Virginia. And it was raining, which only added to that bone-chilling effect. Something warm was in order, something cozy. Lucky (which I’ve found has garnered some kind of reputation as a hipster joint, which couldn’t be further from the truth) prides itself on offering French comfort food in a gastropub-type environment. I had always wanted to try duck, but I was wary of all that fat. I’m the kind that carves fat off of my meat (after it’s cooked, of course, because not even I’m immune to the flavors some fat can impart during cooking). But, I decided to go for the duck that night because it just sounded, well, comforting.

That night started a love affair with duck. Roasted duck. Duck fat. Duck confit. It doesn’t matter the style, I’m in love. To me, duck trumps all other meat. It trumps pork. I know that’s blasphemy to meat eaters, but I’ll take a good piece of duck over the best bacon you could find.

And it’s all because of that fatty skin. What made me avoid duck for so long turned out to be the best part.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to roast duck at home. Because I eschew meat unless it’s raised locally and humanely, duck was off the list for a home-cooked meal. But a local farm from which I get our chickens started raising duck for meat, and I was among the first in line to buy one. Now, it’s not cheap. It’s a treat (which, let’s face it, really should be the norm when it comes to meat in general). It’s a glorious, succulent, sinfully crispy-skinned treat.

To roast duck, I stick with this recipe. But I stop short of glazing it. The first time I tried out this recipe, I actually had the glaze made as suggested. It was simmering on the stove, and my husband had a taste of it. And he made a terrible face. While I argued with him that the glaze was pretty tasty, the glaze burned. It was a sign, and my husband kept me from making a big mistake by trying to cover up the simplicity of a salted duck. So, the moral of the story is: the first time you roast duck, just go with simple. If you feel it needs something more than salt, go for the glaze the next time around. But this first time, just keep it simple.

Then hold on to your mother effin’ hats, because that first bite will be pure euphoria.

Yes, the recipe seems a bit labor intensive, but it’s really not. It really all boils down to scoring the skin/fat, roasting, flipping a few times, and pricking the skin at every flip to allow all that fatty goodness to drip down into the pan to collect later. It’s worth it, trust me. It’s all worth it in the end.

And yes, you should snip off the extra fat and render it as suggested. First of all, it’s super simple; just let the extra fat simmer in some water to render. Added to the fat that collects from pricking the roasting bird, you’ll end up with a good cup or so of fat, which keeps in the refrigerator for months and makes roasted vegetables (especially potatoes) insanely delicious. And it makes for some great cornbread.

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The recipe, I think, is pretty self-explanatory. There’s no need to elaborate, but do keep an eye on your duck to ensure you don’t roast it too long and end up drying out the meat. Once that skin becomes a gloriously golden, crispy, bubbling mass of glory, it’s time. The meat itself should be incredibly tender and cut like butter. Don’t doubt your instincts when it comes to roasting; cooking times are subjective and dependent upon the oven type, the size of the bird, etc., so don’t assume four hours of roasting is going to be the rule. Also? The fresher the bird in general, the less roasting time is required. Just something to keep in mind.

As far as sides go, this doesn’t need much other than some roasted potatoes and a simple salad. It’s the perfect fall meal, so as the weather cools, forget the hot chocolate, and go for the roasted duck.

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The Great Cornbread Debate, Part II (Electric Boogaloo)

So you know that other cornbread recipe I posted a few days ago? Scratch that. Apparently I’ve stumbled across something better. And this is how it went down. (Sorry, there are no pictures because I was already coming off making another batch of 32 bagels, dinner, and the first pie crust I’ve made in 10 years. There was a lot going on in the kitchen that day.)

I received a cornbread recipe about five years ago from the wife of a friend of my husband. It was great, and I used to serve it for Thanksgiving meals and bring it to tailgates (speaking of which, holy crap it’s almost football season Hokies!). And then I changed the way I ate, and I couldn’t justify fixing cornbread made with Jiffy mix, sour cream, and canned corn. It was too much for my delicate senses.

Thus, the cornbread recipe fell out of favor and was stashed away for about two years in a family cookbook. Until I resurrected it Saturday and decided to give it a bit of a makeover. I was heading to my first Lambstock (so much more on that later), and of course a proper Southern gal never shows up to a food event empty-handed. Even if that food event is brimming with legitimate chefs. Hey, I’m a-ok with my cooking skills; there’s not much that intimidates me.

Anyway, I started by Googling, “What’s in Jiffy cornbread mix?” Proper way to start, right? Granted, the answer was nothing too terribly bad, but I really can’t stand to use boxed or pre-made items if I can make my own version. And generally, I can. And always, it tastes better.

I transitioned from my Google search to making the cornbread with some tweaks here and there (e.g., subbing in yogurt for sour cream, etc.). But what I really think made the difference here was duck fat. Duck fat makes everything better, you guys. I’m pretty sure the answer to most of life’s little questions is: duck fat. Why is the “check engine” light still on in my Honda? Duck fat. Why do our beagles fart so much? Duck fat. (Okay, I don’t feed them duck fat, and that’s certainly not what makes them little gassy, four-legged machines. Neither will duck fat solve all of your problems, but it’s a start, especially when pondering how to make certain foods taste richer.)

I rolled into Lambstock with my little Ziploc bag full of this cornbread and plunked it down, okay in the fact that no one was really eating it (I think because my husband had placed himself directly in front of the bag and kept sneaking pieces). But eventually, someone did. And on my way back from a little jaunt to the port-a-potty (after which I totally washed my hands, don’t worry), I heard several people hunkered down underneath the Cardinal Point Winery tent yell my name. Then, someone shouted, “Bring the cornbread up here!” Well, at least I wasn’t going to have to take any home with me.

Apparently they thought it was good (one person asked if I was a chef; it’s always funny to watch other’s faces as I say, “I’m a technical editor,” because yeah, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to explain my job in a fascinating way, either, even though I enjoy what I do). Meanwhile, my husband was threatening to keep the bag to himself. I guess it was decent stuff.

So now, the recipe. This is, once again, a sweeter cornbread. That’s just my preference, and I assume the honey could be ommitted if you’re so inclined. If you don’t have duck fat, I really don’t know what to tell you (aside from advising you to go buy a duck and render down the fat, which isn’t so hard at all to do, but that’s another post for another time). It worked great here, and I doubt olive oil or another fat could easily be substituted. But, you never know. If you try it using a different fat and you think it tastes great, lemme know!

Lambstock Cornbread (fits perfectly in a 9×9 baking dish but could easily be doubled to fit in a 9×13 dish)

2 ears fresh corn

1.5 Tbsp. duck fat

2/3 c. hard red flour (again, I use flour ground by hand from Beyond Homemade, but AP flour could be used)

1/2 c. cornmeal (I use Bob’s Red Mill in a pinch)

1 Tbsp. baking powder (non-aluminum, please)

1/4 tsp. salt

2 eggs, room temperature

3 Tbsp. honey

3/4 c. yogurt (I used a mix of Greek yogurt and raw milk yogurt, but all Greek could be used)

3 oz. butter, melted and cooled slightly (scalding butter would only lead to scrambled eggs)

Place 1 Tbsp. of the duck fat in a glass baking dish. Place the dish in the oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees. (Allowing the dish to sit in the oven while it heats obviously melts the duck fat but also helps prevent sticking.)

Meanwhile, shuck the corn and cut the kernels off the cob (the cobs can be reserved to thicken soups, etc. or composted as need be–obviously, I don’t like to waste things). Remove the dish/fat from the oven and gently drop in the kernels (because splashing, hot fat is never fun on the skin), stirring to lightly coat the kernels in the duck fat. Place dish back in oven and roast the kernels for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

While the kernels roast, mix together in a large bowl the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, honey, yogurt, and butter. Fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined (the batter should resemble that of pancake batter, if a bit runnier). Set aside.

When the corn kernels are finished roasting, remove from oven and allow the kernels to cool slightly. Fold into the cornbread mixture; set aside.

In the same baking dish or a cast iron skillet (the more traditional method) drop the remaining 1/2 Tbsp. duck fat. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and place the dish/skillet in the oven to allow the duck fat to melt. When heated, remove the dish/skillet from the oven and pour in the cornbread mixture. Shake the dish/skillet back and forth a few times to level out the mixture (using oven mitts, obviously; trust me, grabbing a hot skillet with your bare hands is not the best of ideas).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. The top should be golden, and the cornbread is ready when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Enjoy with some honey, butter, fruit preserves, etc. Or more duck fat. And/or some Cardinal Point wine! And CP guys, my husband and I keep talking about getting up that way soon to do some wine tours, so next time we’re around, I’ll be sure to bring more than a bag of the cornbread!

The Great Cornbread Debate

I have to admit, it’s going to be hit and miss around here during the next week due to deadlines, of both the full-time and the freelance nature. You may see a guest post from my husband in the meantime. I don’t know. I’ve kind of usurped the kitchen the past 5 years, so he’s not sure what he can cook other than a killer PB&J sandwich. At any rate, this may have to tide you over for a few days until I can come back up for air.

So, cornbread. I know there’s debate among cornbread lovers whether it should be sweet or savory. I don’t really care which is right or wrong. I just know what I prefer, and it’s usually cornbread with a touch of sweetness. If you prefer the savory, just leave out the honey from the recipe below. Simple solution; no need to get your panties in a bunch. Really, there’s much more to worry about than cornbread.

I made up this recipe, so it could use some fine tuning (like more honey). But, for the first go-round, it did the job pretty well (meaning it was at least edible). When coming up with new recipes, I find it’s best to turn on some Alabama Shakes and just go for it. Sometimes with a beer as a backup confidence booster. Also, it’s apparently necessary that I burn the shit out of myself at some point.

I baked the cornbread for 20 minutes, and it came out a mix between cake-y and spoon bread consistency, which I actually prefer. Obviously, if you want less spoon bread consistency, bake it 5 or so more minutes.

The yogurt? Some cornbread calls for sour cream, and this is about as close as I could come given what was in our fridge. I decided I wanted a bite of heat in the cornbread, thus the jalapenos. If you don’t like them, just leave ’em out. The same with the corn. It’s all subjective, all up to you, but below is the basis I used. I served this with catfish and tomato “jam” (although I decided to just grill the catfish and season it with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika). To counterbalance the jalapeno, I just threw together a cold salad of chopped watermelon (an ingredient I’m currently obsessed with), chopped cucumber, and some mint.

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Cornbread
3 jalapenos, whole
Kernels from 3 ears of fresh corn
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. soft white flour (aka pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/4 c. yogurt (I use a raw yogurt, but Greek yogurt or sour cream would probably be comparable here)
1/2 c. milk
1/2 Tbsp. honey
Duck fat or oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of duck fat (or oil) into a glass baking dish or roasting pan and place in the oven to heat. When the fat/oil is heat, carefully add the jalapenos and corn kernels; roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and honey. Fold the egg mixture into the flour, stirring until just combined. Set aside.

When the jalapenos/corn are finished roasting, remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of fat/oil into a small cast iron pan and place in oven to heat.

While the pan and fat/oil warm, add the roasted corn kernels to the cornbread mixture. Slice the jalapenos (either with or without seeds; with seeds will add more heat) and add to the cornbread mixture. Stir until the corn and jalapenos are incorporated.

Remove the cast iron pan from the oven, drop in the cornbread mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes (see above notes for consistency/baking times).

Serve warm with honey, butter, or a great piece of fish.

 

Duck, duck…FAT!

In this tub? Glorious duck fat.

You guys, while I’m knocking out posts covering my cooking/baking spree this weekend, can we talk about duck fat for a minute? Because it. Is. GLORIOUS. I know duck, particularly foie gras, has been catching a lot of attention in the culinary world. I’ve never had foie gras, I admit, so I won’t add my two cents about its possible ban. (But really? Really?! Do you know what’s in grocery store meat? Do you think it’s actually healthy to fatten cows with grain? Seriously? Those ducks raised for foie gras are raised better than anything that’s behind those glass counters at your local grocery store. Okay, maybe I won’t keep my mouth shut.)

Anyway, I may never have had foie gras, but I have had duck. And it’s, god, it’s just the best. I love pork, I like chicken, I eat red meat, but duck? It’s something else entirely. When done right, it’s melt-in-your-mouth sinful. And most of that is due to its high fat content. One day soon I’ll do a post about roasted duck, but for now, it’s duck fat. I picked up a tub of it at Two Boroughs Larder during our last trip to Charleston, and I now use it when roasting potatoes, among other things. It imparts a wonderful flavor, though it’s not overwhelming. Scooped out by the tablespoon, it looks like an even more decadent, fat-filled version of ice cream. And yeah, that’s because it’s pure, unadulterated fat.

Now, I don’t advocate smothering everything in animal fat, but a tablespoon or two here and there is a great treat and acts as a flavor enhancer, especially when roasting. Also? If you add the fat to a roasting pan and pop it in the oven as the oven heats up, the fat will melt, which further prevents your veggies from sticking to the pan as they roast.

I had some adirondack blue potatoes in the pantry from a recent farmers market trip (and I really do prefer this kind of potato; not only are they visually appealing but adirondacks contain increased levels of anthocyanins, pigments that act as powerful antioxidants [think blueberries]).

So, I sliced the potatoes, a red onion, and tossed them in the pan with the melted duck fat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Just roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

If you’ve tried duck fat and have some great suggestions for additional usage, let me know!