Try­ing fowl

If you’ve never eaten duck, the play­offs might be the time, if only to en­sure Ana­heim eats crow

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - BART­LEY KIVES

IN po­lite so­ci­ety, it isn’t ac­cept­able to kill and con­sume your enemies. But if you’re into sym­bolic dom­i­na­tion, con­sider the case of the Ana­heim Ducks, the only one of 30 NHL squads to adopt a rel­a­tively help­less, com­monly con­sumed crea­ture as its nick­name.

In the­ory, you could eat a pen­guin or a coyote, but nei­ther of those crit­ters are re­puted to taste very good. Pan­thers and sharks are pro­tected and in­creas­ingly en­dan­gered. Hunt­ing a bruin is fea­si­ble, given the large Canadian pop­u­la­tion of black bears, but not eas­ily ac­com­plished.

Of all the an­i­mals that ap­pear on NHL jer­seys, only the duck is a com­mon hu­man food­stuff. Duck can be found in ev­ery good Chi­nese gro­cery, hang­ing be­hind the glass in the bar­be­cue sec­tion, along with the fireengine-red pork ten­der­loins and yel­lowybronze marinated chick­ens.

Duck can also be or­dered off any good south­ern Chi­nese menu, shred­ded in soup, braised in a hot pot or served as an ap­pe­tizer por­tion of the afore­men­tioned, crispy-skinned fowl bar­be­cue.

Call ahead, and some north­ern Chi­nese kitchens will pre­pare Pek­ing duck; they serve the roasted skin and some duck meat with small pancakes, green onions and hoisin sauce. Yes, the duck taco is a Chi­nese in­ven­tion.

Find a French bistro, and you can snag a nice con­fit of duck leg. This is a de­lec­ta­ble, an­cient recipe, where the fatty ap­pendage is first salted and then cooked slowly in its own fat, tra­di­tion­ally as a method of preser­va­tion.

A more mod­ern, French-in­spired restau­rant prepa­ra­tion in­volves sim­ply sear­ing a whole duck breast, but only long enough to en­sure the flesh re­mains medium rare to pre­serve its deep-red colour be­fore its carved into slices.

In other words, if you’re the sort of Win­nipeg Jets fan who has no prob­lem re­sort­ing to su­per­sti­tion in an ef­fort to help your team gain an up­per hand over Ana­heim, you could spend the rest of the Jets-vs.-Ducks open­ing-round se­ries con­sum­ing wa­ter­fowl.

Fair is fowl, but fowl ain’t fare

GO back a cen­tury. It wouldn’t be un­com­mon for a nice fat duck or goose to wind up on the fam­ily ta­ble as the cen­tre­piece of a cel­e­bra­tory meal.

Th­ese could have been wild birds or do­mes­tic fowl raised on a small, fam­ily farm. When farm­ing op­er­a­tions grew, how­ever, chicken proved to be eas­ier and more prof­itable to raise.

“With mod­ern poul­try pro­duc­tion, it costs pen­nies to pro­duce chicken, whereas duck re­quires a bit more main­te­nance,” says Scott Bagshaw, chef and owner of Enoteca, a River Heights restau­rant where duck is al­most al­ways on the menu.

A do­mes­tic duck also yields less pro­tein than a chicken, mak­ing it less eco­nom­i­cal for farm­ers to raise and for restau­rants to buy and sell.

This is one of the rea­sons chicken is far more com­monly con­sumed than duck. But there are oth­ers: Duck is more dif­fi­cult to pre­pare for home cooks and restau­rant chefs alike.

“An over­cooked chicken breast will still be rel­a­tively ten­der, but if you over­cook a duck breast, it will be re­ally tough,” Bagshaw says.

“We don’t ask peo­ple how they like their duck breast done. It’s medium-rare. To prop­erly cook a duck breast re­quires some skill and pa­tience.”

Cooked medium-rare, a duck breast winds up a glo­ri­ous hue of deep red­dish-pur­ple on the in­te­rior. For a gen­er­a­tion of con­sumers raised to re­gard un­der­cooked poul­try as dan­ger­ously toxic, the ap­pear­ance of per­fectly cooked duck can be off-putting.

“For years, peo­ple ate their meat well done. Peo­ple are still a lit­tle scared of duck, be­cause it’s a bird that you can eat rare,” says Adam Donnelly, chef and co-owner of Os­borne Vil­lage restau­rant Se­govia, which also al­most al­ways has one duck dish on the menu.

“Chicken, you have to cook it through. There is a stigma of hav­ing to cook meat all the way through.”

The breast way to sear a duck

IF you’re bar­be­cu­ing a duck, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing for the crispy skin as much as you are for the meat in­side. If you’re mak­ing a duck-leg con­fit or brais­ing an en­tire bird, you’re cooking the heck out of the thing, by very def­i­ni­tion.

Sear­ing a duck breast with­out over­cook­ing it is a more del­i­cate op­er­a­tion. Donnelly says he starts by sear­ing the whole breast, skin­side down, to ren­der out the con­sid­er­able layer of fat.

The breast then gets popped into an oven at high heat — but only for two min­utes. Af­ter that, comes the most im­por­tant step: rest­ing the meat, for six to eight min­utes.

“This is what helps the duck be­come ten­der with­out over­cook­ing it,” he ex­plains. Slice it open too soon, and you wind up with a pool of juice on a cut­ting board and a gen­uinely tough bird.

Right now, Donnelly is serv­ing slices of seared duck breast with spicy lentils, olives and some lab­neh — strained yo­gurt — flavoured with piquillo pep­pers.

Bagshaw, who uses a sim­i­lar method, serves his slices with a purée of Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes, golden beets, hazel­nuts and a sauce of Ar­magnac and figs.

Nei­ther ex­pect more peo­ple to or­der duck, sim­ply be­cause of the Jets’ op­po­nent in the first round of the NHL play­offs. In fact, Win­nipeg restau­rants tend to be dead on game nights as of late, if they’re not the sort of place with a wide-screen tele­vi­sion.

“Dur­ing a game, we’ll be re­ally slow,” says Donnelly, a Jets fan who has a ticket to Game 3 of the Ducks se­ries, in Win­nipeg on Mon­day. “I think the play­offs are re­ally good for the city. Ev­ery­one’s re­ally ex­cited.”

Bagshaw is more am­biva­lent about the Jets — but in­ter­ested in the way the city is re­act­ing.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the glad­i­a­to­rial grandios­ity of the event. I’m a Ro­man his­tory fan; I used to be a his­tory teacher. I ap­pre­ci­ate hockey games on that communal, blood­thirsty level,” he says.

It makes sense that a chef isn’t turned off by a lit­tle blood.

Get­ting your ducks in a row

NOW be­fore you head out into the bush with a shot­gun and try to bag your­self a timely meal, you might want to con­sider the duck hunt doesn’t ac­tu­ally start un­til Septem­ber in Man­i­toba.

Even then, not all ducks are cre­ated equal.

In North Amer­ica, the most com­mon do­mes­tic duck breed is the white pekin, a de­scen­dent of the ubiq­ui­tous wild mal­lard. The pekin is the prover­bial “lit­tle white duck” from your child­hood sing-alongs.

Chances are, this is also the species you’re eat­ing when you’re chow­ing down on Chi­nese bar­be­cue or a taco filled with shred­ded duck leg.

Com­pared to a pur­pose-bred do­mes­tic duck, a wild mal­lard will yield less meat and taste a lit­tle gamier. But the es­thet­ics are sub­jec­tive; if you’ve grown up eat­ing wild duck, you may find do­mes­tic meat as bland as a chicken nugget.

That’s prob­a­bly why Chi­ne­seCana­dian chefs lib­er­ally douse the stuff in soy sauce. At Sun For­tune, a popular Chi­nese bar­be­cue spot near the U of M, you can or­der half a duck for $12.95.

That’s a far bet­ter deal than a large pack of McNuggets from McDon­ald’s. And far more sat­is­fy­ing — this week­end, any­way.

PHOTO IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY WENDY YANG/CHAR­LOTTE OB­SERVER

MIKE DEAL / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Adam Donnelly, chef and co-owner of Se­govia, pre­pares a plate of seared duck breast on lentils.

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