Oh, fat. Let’s be honest — there’s a reason why bacon is better than ham, why Kobe beef is better than Ralph’s-shelf grain-fed, why ice cream does things frozen yogurt can’t. It’s fat. Foods high in fat content taste AWESOME.
Which, to be honest, isn’t our fault — it’s because our primitive screwhead ancestors (to quote Army of Darkness) spent so much time freaking starving that a craving for fats, and for sugars that we turn into fats, is built into our very biochemical wiring by evolution.
As we are no longer roaming the grasslands, though, a difficulty in finding fats — like lion attack and wildebeest stampede— has moved way down our list of concerns. (I know there have been books tracing the rise of civilization to, for example, the ability to transport cod as a protein source or mine salt — has there been a similar book looking at the rise of “civilization” to the ability to manufacture, stabilize and transport sugars and fats? If not, I call dibs on the title HydrogeNation …)
These days, dietary fat is a serious concerns for all of us, and should be taken seriously. But, at the same time, it’s so damn yummy. Salmon, avocados, olive oil — all delicious, and all full of fat, but less so, and less dangerously, than, say, hamburger, cheese, butter. And who wants to live without cheese? My rule about this, he said knowingly carrying a few extra lbs., is as follows: Eat the good stuff, and actively do harm reduction. Don’t pound a bag of Oreos into your head; make cookies and have a few as a contemplated reward. And make smart substitutions and cooking decisions that cut the fat from high-fat foods. Which brings us to today’s recipe:
SLIGHTLY LESS DANGEROUS DUCK
Duck is incredibly fatty, which is why, when cooked badly, it can resemble being asked to eat a cake of greasy soap that was used to wash an old chicken. But a little physics can prevent this.
1) Either have your butcher section a whole duck — breasts, legs, etc —or get a number of duck legs (available, albeit pre-frozen, at many shops). Prick the skin, not the flesh, extensively — I used a toothpick.
2) In a large pot with steamer basket, fill pot with water (plus strong aromatics, if you want — I used soy and ginger) and bring to boil. (THIS is what’s going to chase the fat out — the heat of the steam, 212 degrees F. is well above the heat fat renders at. This technique can work with a whole duck if spatchcocked — look it up — but works better with pieces.) Put duck in steamer basket for 30 mins and cover, flipping once half-way through; while duck is steaming, prepare indirect-heat coals in barbecue (coals only mounded on one-half of lower rack) and prepare a foil packet of soaked aromatic wood chips — cedar, applewood, hickory, etc. Mix honey, soy and Chinese-five-spice powder to taste.
3) Place foil packet on on coals; brush duck with sauce and place duck pieces on side of grill WITHOUT coals under it. Close vents most of the way, with open vent over duck, not coals (this draws the heat from the coals over the duck — which is what you want to have happen in indirect grilling, which is seriously one of the most useful grilling techniques you can learn).
4) Grill until golden and crisp, approximately 5 mins a side; Flip and re-brush with sauce as appropriate. As long as you don’t accidentally get the duck directly over the coals, this is a hard method to screw up — the steaming has cooked the duck, mostly, and this step is just for flavor and texture. BUT DON’T, DON’T, DON’T let the duck get over the coals, as you’ll have scary, taste-destroying flare-ups when the fat drips onto the coals. Let it cook until you feel good; you can check the duck flesh with a paring knife to be sure it’s done all the way through when you think it’s a good idea; if the juices run clear, you’re fine.
5) Plate and serve with a crisp beer and a crunchy side — I had Jicima-Blood Orange Ginger/Jalapeno salad, about which more later.
The steaming melts off a lot of the duck fat, as does the grilling — if you want the proof ocular, to quote Othello, see below — that second picture is the fat melted off three legs/thighs in just 30 minutes, which I saved for scientific purposes.
Tomorrow, Cookie Monster and the Philosophy of side dishes.