Why a Duck? (Part I) 

To celebrate nothing in particular, I spent the weekend with a duck. This best-known and most-loved game bird is one of my favorite foods, period. It’s full of flavor, the mahogany-colored breast more satisfying and meaty even than veal. The leg and thigh meat, unlike chicken and turkey, are milder, and because they’re more sinewy, are best cooked slowly so the meat falls away from bone and ligaments.

Untold hunters have, and do, bring home their birds, clean them, eat one or two and freeze the rest, and really have no idea just how good a duck can taste. Neither do their friends.

Because I do what I do for a living, I’m fortunate to know retired Chef Milos Cihelka, the first certified master chef in the U.S., known as “the godfather” because of the many superb chefs who studied with him and moved on to foster more talent. Cihelka is best known as the kitchen boss in two of the finest restaurants ever to operate in metro Detroit – the London Chop House and the Golden Mushroom, both now, regrettably, gone.

An avid outdoorsman, Cihelka is also a recognized expert in game-handling and cookery. I once taped a TV feature on him, and when done, he presented me with a duck he had shot, aged and plucked. Note that the bird was aged, the carcass hung by its neck in a cool, sheltered place until it fell under its own weight. The idea of this controlled decomposition is repellent to most of us, but it’s a key to excellent game, whether on feet or wings. Cihelka’s gift bird was truly the finest I’ve had before or since.

Like most of you, I have no affectionate bird hunters in my life who share from their bag after a successful day in the field. But I’ve learned to make excellent use of the frozen ducklings readily available in any supermarket, wasting nothing.

To start, try the following, but wait until next week, when we’ll cook.

PREP YOUR CARCASS

After thawing the duck for a couple of days in the fridge, unwrap, remove the neck and giblets from the cavity, throw out the packet of “orange sauce” that may also be in there, rinse everything well and pat dry. (Simmer the liver in a little water for a few minutes, drain it, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and eat it as the cook’s treat.) Put any other giblets and the neck in a large stockpot.

Trim the carcass of hanging skin and fat, cut into strips about 1/2-inch wide and put these “scraps” into a large saucepan (where all skin and fat trimmings will go).

Place the duck on a cutting board breast-side-up. Find the breastbone with your fingers and, using the tip of a very sharp knife, make repeated cuts along one side of it until the meat is separated from the carcass in a single piece. Repeat with other breast half. Leave the skin and fat on each half, but trim away any excess, cut into strips and add them to the saucepan. Set aside the prepared breast halves.

Now feel for the joint where each wing and thigh is attached to the body and carefully cut them away at the joint. Wings go in the stockpot. Tidy up the leg quarters, leaving any skin and fat that covers the meat, and adding the trimmings to the others in the saucepan.

Now, break and cut or chop the rest of the carcass into manageable pieces, trim away remaining skin and fat, those going into the saucepan, the pieces into the stock pot.

Next week: Seared breast, duck confit, cracklings and “pure gold” — rendered duck fat.

Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to rbohy@metrotimes.com

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