make way for duckling*
May 11, 2008

*with apologies to those who find carnivores and children's lit a poor combo

The great thing about duck, Chef is fond of saying, is that you can use the whole thing. Obviously you can roast or confit the legs and sauté the breast. You can use the trimmings and bones for stock. You can render the fat for cooking. You can make pâté with the liver. You get cracklings from the skin. It is virtually waste-free. With that kind of endorsement—and because I can get a frozen Long Island duck from FreshDirect for $15—I spend the week fantasizing about a duck feast.

I'm not wild about the classic à l'orange sauce, so I decide I'll use the same concept with the pomegranate molasses in my fridge (I assume I've copied this idea from Ivo and Lulu, but it turns out the pairing of pomegranate and duck goes back to ancient Persian times). In class, Chef made us a coconut white and wild rice blend, which we molded onto our plates with plastic ramekins—and it's my hands-down new favorite side dish. I want one more hit of color on the plate, but since butternut squash (always a good pairing for coconut milk) is out of season, I figure I'll roast carrots and purée them (contemplating Mom's carrot soufflé, but deciding I want something slightly less involved, even if it means I sacrifice some smoothness). By the time I've envisioned this entire meal, I don't really want to wait for a special occasion—and, since I can use the poultry-carving practice, it's like homework, really. So I invite some neighborhood folks over for Sunday night taste-testing.

This is supposed to be a casual endeavor. I figure I'll prep everything in the early afternoon, spend the middle portion of the day with other pressing concerns (laundry, ironing, freelance editing, studying for our next test), then finish everything off around 6:30 for dinner between 7:30 and 8. But I should know by now that Tiny Kitchen is a timing black hole. I spend all day working on my duck.

Mostly this is because I keep coming up with extra things to do. Duck liver? Well, I can learn to make pâté. In fact, I have some sourdough bread ends in the fridge whose only chance at extended life is to become crostini. And if I'm serving pâté, then I should dig out the cornichons from the back of the fridge, too. And, despite thinking that the one portion of the duck I'm not interested in eating is the skin (cracklings don't even sound good), while I'm rendering excess fat in order to sauté the liver, I end up with some pretty crispy skin. I move it out of the fat and onto the counter, and before I know it, I'm snacking. Cracklings are good (but I throw them away before I can eat enough to make myself sick). And by the time I have the duck stock on the back burner and realize the front right pilot light is out again, I've pretty much run out of space for juggling wild and white rice cooked separately, not to mention reducing my sauce, making a gastrique and, eventually, sautéing my duck breasts.

Even with all these detours and slowdowns (the gastrique, though classic, might not be necessary; pomegranate molasses packs a pretty good sweet-and-sour punch on its own), I have dinner on the table—beautifully plated—shortly after Meg and Emily arrive, first feeding them pâté crostini while they pour wine. I toss together some arugula and vinaigrette, then, in the interest of using up everything in the fridge I might otherwise forget about, grate the end of a wedge of Mahón and toss that with the salad as well. Tracy makes it home from work in time to start her entrée as we top off the meal with coconut sorbet and finish the wine.

Casual-yet-elegant feasting is so fun, that I almost don't mind that I'm starting my ironing at midnight. I might be able to pull this off with some regularity.

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