To be perfectly honest, I am not a 100% sure this guy was a Pintail, more like 90% sure. We shot several Pintail ducks during a hunt this season. We hunted in a flooded marsh next to large rice fields and almost all of the ducks, including the Pintails, where covered in a thin layer of lovely white fat. According to Hank Shaw and his wonderful new book Duck, Duck Goose “Pins” make for fantastic eating and those covered in white (not yellow or orange) fat are almost guaranteed to be delicious. He is right on both counts.
The inspiration for the flavor of this recipe is a famous dish from the Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Chef Humm from EMP serves a fantastic roasted duck, served whole and then carved table-side. I’ve never had the dish but I’ve been pining to try it out ever since I saw it online a while back (just Google Eleven Madison Park duck). The bird is coated with lavender, honey and spices and then roasted in a hot oven until golden brown and crackly. This seemed like a great way to try on my Pintail using the Hank Shaw method of roasting a whole small duck in a hot oven.
I patted the duck dry well salted it and let it rest in the fridge for a few hours. Before cooking, I dried it well again and coated it with honey then sprinkled it with a mixture of toasted and coarsely crushed coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and salt. I put the duck on a few branches of fennel in a cast iron pan and then baked it in a very hot oven (about 500 F) until the breasts registered 135 F on a meat thermometer. Following Hank Shaw’s method, I carved the breasts off the bird at that point and let them rest on more pieces of fennel. The rest of the duck went back in the oven at a lower temperature so the legs can finish cooking completely and tenderize a bit. Right when the legs are cooked, I returned the breasts to a hot pan, skin side down to crisp them up really well without overcooking.
The cooking method worked exceptionally well. I ended up with a lovely pink breast meat and tender well cooked duck legs. To serve I paired the bird with roasted beets -I always seem to end up with beets and duck somehow- sauteed beet greens and a fennel salad coated with a lemon dressing. I finished the dish with a pan sauce made by quickly cooking down some shallots in the fat in the roasting pan and de-glazing the whole thing with some white wine and water. I adjusted the flavor of the sauce with a little apple balsamic vinegar, mounted it with butter and drizzled over the plate. The duck was fantastic with sweet caramelized flavors, crispy skin and wonderful fragrant spices. This really is the best wild duck I’ve cooked so far.
I did serve this with a simple side dish of Puy lentils. I used the smallest tenderest beet leaves raw. These got tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and went on top of the lentils. As good as these lentils were, they really were not needed. The duck plate was satisfying and filling enough and required not extra starch.
I’m still working on my wild duck cooking skill and the best result I’ve gotten so far is through removing the breasts and legs and cooking them separately. I’ve made a “quick salad” for my kids and I recently and I basically sautéed everything for different times and then sliced and served on top of a tart green salad. That was very nice and I achieved the well cooked crispy legs I complained about missing in this post. I also managed to get the breasts to be medium with a crispy skin, but some parts were over-cooked a bit and overcooked wild duck is not a very good thing.
For this dish I took it to the next logical level and did what experienced cooks and chefs always instruct us to do: cook the breasts and legs separately each to their optimum doneness. It’s that “optimum doneness” part that can be a bit tricky while shooting for a crisp skin on such lean small birds. The way I tackled it is to cook the breasts sous vide and the legs baked in a very hot oven. The legs were well-done and crisp and the breasts were a lovely medium rare and a nice rosy color, even after a quick sear in a hot pan to crisp the skin. Before cooking the meat I simply salted it and rubbed it with a bit of thyme the night before and the breasts were packaged in FoodSaver bags with a bit of butter in there before going in the water at 55C for about an hour.
To go with the duck I made red braised cabbage and fried hominy cakes. The cabbage is from Gordon Ramsey’s “*** Chef” that I posted about a while back. It’s a very simple recipe of cabbage, butter and vinegar. The end result is delicious and very flavorful, much more than the sum of its parts. The hominy cakes are another direct rip off from Hank Shaw where he also pairs it with duck, canvasback to be exact. I followed Hank’s recipe verbatim and it worked perfectly. The grits cakes held together and had a great crispy exterior and a lovely soft interior. The flavor was mild and it really offset all the other robust flavors in the dish from the duck, cabbage and sauce. The dish needed the texture and the cakes delivered it in strides. The bread crumbs I used were made from a loaf of bread I baked with poppy seeds and that’s why the cakes’ crust has all these little black specs in it. That looked pretty neat and worked well with the sort of Germanic theme of dish.
The sauce here is based on the duck carcasses. After removing the breasts and legs, I cut up the remaining bones and trimmings and made a stock with them. I wanted the stock to be robust and full of flavor, so I first roasted the cut up oil-rubbed carcasses and sautéed a bunch of aromatics in the drippings in the pan. Then I deglazed the pan with Madeira and sherry vinegar. Everything went in the pressure cooker and cooked at 15 psi for about an hour and half. I ended up with a good 1.5 quarts of amazing duck stock. I used about a cup for the sauce and the rest is now frozen for other applications (possibly an oyster and duck gumbo to use up the last three birds I have in the near future). The sauce is prepared like a traditional red wine sauce made by simmering red wine and aromatics with the addition of chopped fresh beets. I added the beets for color and flavor, another item that to me sounds Germanic as well. After the wine is reduced I added in the duck stock and allowed that to reduce a bit as well before enriching with a bit of butter. The sauce had everything I was looking for a rich color and deep flavor.