An existential conversation with a 3 year old about a duck:
Lucy: Whatcha cookin' Mommy?
Lucy: Like Donald.
Kim: Well, a real duck, not a cartoon in a book. (I show her the steamed carcass. She looks it over curiously and pokes her finger into the skin.)
Lucy: Is it like the kind in the pond in Central Park?
Kim: Well, yes...kinda. Only this duck came from the market, not Central Park.
Lucy: It's dead?
Kim: It's definitely dead.
Lucy: Like Murphy? (That's our dead cat.)
Kim: Yes, the duck died just like Murphy.
Lucy: Was the duck sick? Murphy was sick.
Kim: No, the duck wasn't sick.
Lucy: If the duck wasn't sick, why did it die? Was it old?
Kim: No, baby. The duck was just the right age...(I let the sentence trail off. I consider giving her candy. Maybe something with high fructose corn syrup. Maybe a pony. But she persists...)
Lucy: Did the duck live in a pond near Grandma's house?
Kim: I'm not sure. Maybe we should check. (So much for knowing where your food comes from. Nominations for food blogger of the year? Anyone?)
Lucy starts on a long conversation with herself (or I guess me, but I'm no longer listening) about ducks who live in ponds and wear pink feather coats and she is singing, "Spoonful of Sugar" in a high squeaky voice (I think she is pretending to be a cat singing to a duck) and dancing around the kitchen holding the plate of duck carcass.
All I can think about is...Did my duck live in a pond? Did this duck ever even see water? Where the hell did my duck come from? I could have been in a trance for hours pondering this question. I'm jarred back to reality by Lucy repeating the same sentence over and over in a voice loud enough to set off a sonic boom.
Lucy: I like this duck, Mommy. I like this duck, Mommy. I like this duck, Mommy...Mommy!...MOMMY!
Lucy: I like this duck.
Aw crap. She's going to go completely vegan on me. I see my easy life in the kitchen slipping away. I see her bringing a duck carcass to bed with her. I see her trailing it behind her on a leash when she goes to preschool. I see the neighbors asking each other in hushed voices why my 3 year old is pushing a decaying duck in alittle pink dress and bonnet in her baby stroller.
Kim: It's a good duck, Sweetie but you know...(I need to do this right or I'll be making tofurkey for the next 20 years.)...This duck is going to be our dinner. We're going to eat him.
Silence. Perplexed looks. Lots of thinking. Fish face.
Kim: You okay with this? I mean eating the duck? (Shit! Shit! Shit! She's going to be a vegan. I just know it!)
Lucy: We're going to eat the duck? (I nod. It's all going to hell.)
Lucy: Okay...Can I watch a Princess movie? (YES!!!! Saved by Princess Jasmine and her horse Sahara. God bless them and all their horrifying pink accessories!)
We ate the duck. And the next day, the Duck Pho. Both were hits with the whole army. The vegans have been pushed back to the gates. And I live to fight another day.
Below you'll find my recipe for steamed and roasted duck and a fantastic Vietnamese noodle soup you can make with the leftovers. You'll adore them. Unless you're a vegan. And then you"ll hate these dishes and everything they represent. Sorry.
PS Thanks to photographer, David Hagerman at Eating Asia for the photos (with borders) of the duck and soup.
Step 1: Steamed and Roasted Duck
(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)
Serves 2 adults and maybe a couple of small children (Duck might look big, but there isn't much meat, so you should figure one duck for two people.)
Time: 1 ½ hours (This is a "do-ahead" recipe. You should steam the duck a day or two ahead of the roasting. You'll get crispier skin this way and the roasting, about a half hour prior to dinner, will be effortless and hassle-free.)
1 (5-6 pound duck) excess fat removed, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon minced ginger (or 1 teaspoon of ground ginger)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons of sherry or white wine of Chinese Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons of white wine or water
Prick duck skin all over with a thin bladed knife or fork. Try not to hit the meat – the fat layer is about a 1/ of an inch thick. Place 1 to 2 inches of water in a pot fitted with a steamer Place the duck on the steamer, cover the pot and turn the heat up high. Steam for about 45 minutes. I didn’t need to add water, but keep an eye on it just in case.
Remove the duck from the pot, place it on a platter and stick it in the fridge uncovered. This is where I diverge from Bittman’s recipe. He suggests that you cover it well when you put it in the fridge, but I’ve learned from Kian at Red Cook that doing it the Chinese way – and letting the skin dry out – makes for extra crispy skin. You can keep the duck uncovered in the fridge for up to 48 hours, the longer it sits the drier the skin, the crispier your duck.
When you are ready to roast – preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Combine all the remaining ingredients in the sauce pan and cook over low heat, stirring until just before it starts to boil. Place the duck breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan (if you don’t have a rack it won’t make much difference). Baste with sauce. Roast the duck this way for 15 minutes.
Then, turn it breast side up. Baste it. Raise the heat to 425 degrees F. Roast until the skin is crisp – you’ll be amazed how fast this happens, another 15 minutes or so. Carve it and serve.
Step 2: Duck Pho
You're going to have leftovers (maybe not actual duck meat, but definitely bones and bits) and out of that you can make a fantastic and supple Vietnamese Noodle soup. It's called Duck Pho and it is lovely.
You'll have two things left over from the steaming and roasting - (1) the leftover water from the steaming will be drenched with duck fat. Save the water and stick it in the freezer. The luscious duck fat will rise to the top. You can use this as a soup base or a braising liquid for something else. And (2) you'll have a carcass and this is going to be your base. Put the duck carcass and any bits of skin, juice and fat in a pot of water. Salt it. Bring it to a boil and then, let it simmer for about two hours. Then, remove all the bones and bits. Now you have this great duck broth. Consider it a blank palate to build on.
You have your stock simmering on the stove. Now, I'm going to give you a bunch of fun things to add to the broth, if you don't have one or two, no worries, just spit ball it as best you can. Add a good sized bundle of green onions (trimmed) and a thumb-sized hunk of ginger root that has been peeled and cut into coins. Then pop in a small piece of star anise (I didn't have any on hand and did without it), an inch-long section of cinnamon stick (the Vietnamese kind if you’ve got it and if not, some ground cinnamon is workable), some whole coriander seed (again, the ground kind is sufficient in a pinch), a couple of whole cloves, and a half teaspoon-ish quantity of sweet fennel seed. Add a healthy shot of fish sauce. (Make sure you do a lot of tasting as the fish sauce will add salt). And then, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for an hour, strain, then hold at a low simmer until ready to serve.
Here's where you can get creative. Before serving, slice some thin wedges of duck meat. Don't have any left? Fine. You can add some silken tofu. Or thinly sliced steak, tempeh, leftover Asian dumplings - you get my drift. Maybe a veg or two, like mung bean sprouts or carrot and celery slivers, a little romaine lettuce or a chiffonade of Thai basil, or endive. A splash of lime over the top. See? You can use the same broth and make several different soups.
Last, cook up some noodles. Thin rice noodles are traditional; thin egg vermicelli is also good. Ramen is fine if you have it. Whatever sort of Asian noodle you like is fine, really. Cook them according to package directions and drain them. Then assemble your bowl of pho. Noodles first, then protein (meats and tofu) then broth, and don’t forget to leave room for veggies.
And because my kids spend more time eating when they are using their hands, I put out little bowls of veg and meat and noodles and give them a set of chopsticks and let them build their own soup. I find they eat more when they have some control over what's in the bowl and they like trying to use the chopsticks. It's messy but satisfying.
Mostly, this soup is warm and cozy, but the flavor is distinct and a real break from the usual chicken, turkey and beef bases. And you can feel good that all that fatty duck is really fueling those little brains.