Properly cooked duck not greasy or fatty, but a slippery prospect nevertheless

April 21, 1993|By Molly Abraham | Molly Abraham,Knight-Ridder News Service

A friend once ruined an expensive dress when she tried to eat a tough, slippery duck. As she struggled to dissect the bird, it slid off her plate and onto her lap, leaving a permanent grease trail.

That anecdote illustrates one of duck's biggest problems and oldest myths: Nothing is worse than a poorly cooked duck, which is always greasy and fatty.

Yes and no, says Melicia Phillips, author of the cookbook "Working a Duck" (Doubleday, $25).

Ms. Phillips, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and works as a sous-chef in Manhattan, hopes her book will help home chefs cook delicious duck and dispel the myth of fat.

"Properly prepared duck is not greasy or fatty," she says, "and is nutritionally comparable to other meats."

The book will no doubt accomplish something else: It will increase focus on a bird that is enjoying a revival in restaurant and home kitchens alike.

Ms. Phillips, 32, says her interest in duck goes back to her childhood on New York's Lower East Side. Her family lived near Chinatown, where glistening ducks were ever-present in restaurants.

Ms. Phillips' mother even made Peking duck at home. Yes, the recipe is in the book -- as are 74 others, from duck and squash ravioli to Thai duck stew with red curry.

By the way, the title of Ms. Phillips' book (her first) comes from an admiring comment made by a co-worker in a Brooklyn restaurant. Watching her skillfully cut up a whole duck, from skin to gizzard, he remarked: "Mel, you sure can work a duck."

For those who want to try their hand with duck at home, here are recipes for griddled duck salad and duck minestrone.

Griddled duck salad

Serves 4

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon dried thyme

4 duck legs (about 1 1/2 pounds total), washed, patted dry

4 cups (or to cover duck legs) garlic oil, duck fat or corn oil

3/4 pound unsalted butter, divided

1 cup walnuts, shelled, halves and pieces

salt to taste

1/2 cup chardonnay

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons shallots, peeled, ends removed, minced

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

salt and pepper to taste

8 cups spinach, washed, dried, cut into strips

24 radicchio leaves, washed, dried, trimmed

24 endive leaves, washed, dried, trimmed

4 apple halves, seeded, cored, sliced

16 2-inch rye or pumpernickel croutons

In a small bowl combine kosher salt and thyme. Rub duck legs thoroughly with salt-thyme mixture.

Place duck legs in a 11-by-7-inch baking pan and place pan in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 hours. Bake in the same pan.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Remove duck legs from refrigerator and pour garlic oil, duck fat or corn oil over duck legs in baking pan. Place a weight, such as a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, on top of duck legs because they have a tendency to float. Bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until meat is very tender. Remove from oven. Using a slotted spoon, remove duck legs to a rack to drain.

While duck legs are baking, prepare walnuts. In a medium skillet, melt 1/4 -pound unsalted butter. Add walnuts and saute for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving butter for a later use. Lightly salt nuts. Set aside.

To prepare mustard dressing: Combine chardonnay, cider vinegar and shallots in a medium saucepan. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes until mixture is reduced and coats the bottom of the pan. Add cream and simmer 10 minutes more. Sauce will be slightly thick. Over low heat, whisk in 1/2 -pound unsalted butter until thoroughly incorporated. Add whole grain mustard, Dijon-style mustard and season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

To assemble salad: Bone duck legs. In a large bowl mix the spinach, radicchio and endive. Evenly divide green among four plates. Heat a medium skillet and add duck. Heat until warm. Place duck on greens.

Sprinkle with walnuts and place sliced apples and croutons around edge of greens. Pour dressing over salad.

Duck minestrone

Serves 6

1 cup onion, peeled, ends removed, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup white wine

6 cups duck stock (recipe below)

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2/3 cup carrot, peeled, ends removed, diced

2 cups zucchini, washed, ends removed, diced

1/2 cup leek, washed, ends removed, diced

2 cups mushrooms, cleaned, diced

2 branches fresh thyme, washed, dried

1/2 cup green beans, washed, ends removed, diced

1 cup savoy cabbage, washed, shredded

1 1/2 cups cooked duck meat, trimmed, diced

Kosher salt to taste

Kosher pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

In a 3 1/2 -quart small soup pot, slowly sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the white wine, bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add duck stock, bay leaf and oregano. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and let the stock reduce for 15 minutes.

Add carrots and simmer 1 minute. Add zucchini, leeks, mushrooms and thyme, and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Add green beans, cabbage and duck meat. Simmer another 5 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme branches and bay leaf. Season soup to taste with kosher salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls.

Garnish with Parmesan cheese if desired.

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