julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Save the Neck for Me, Clark!


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“Ah me, there was still so much to learn, and cooking was only half of it. I felt I’d have to teach at least a hundred classes before I really knew what I was doing.” – Julia Child

First, let me say this: we were down to a total of two rolls of toilet paper in the entire house, yet our fridge is stocked with a 5-pound duck. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate our priorities?

In other news, for the first time in a week, I woke up yesterday morning and could actually breathe out of my nose. Both sides!! Things were looking up. To celebrate my newfound strength and energy, I decided to jump back on the Julia bandwagon and prepared to make Caneton Roti (roast duckling) with Carottes Glacees (glazed carrots) and stuffing. Look out, world! I’m back!

I let the duck thaw overnight on Saturday and by Sunday evening it was ready for prep. I unwrapped it from the white butcher paper, and flipped it over – and was SHOCKED, to say the least, to see my duck GIVE BIRTH!! (I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “Don’t ducks lay eggs?” to which I say, “Don’t devalue the miracle of life.”) To prove it, here’s a picture of what sprang forth from my duck’s loins:

I can honestly say I didn't expect this.

Holy moly!! I didn’t know whether to break out the congratulatory cigars or run screaming from the kitchen. Instead, I did what any professional chef would do. I went straight to the internet to figure out what I was looking at. (See? The things I do for science!) For your educational benefit, I’ve spread out the organs on the white butcher paper and have labeled each part so you won’t be quite so terrified should these items come spilling out of your own duck. Given that there’s not much information on the web about these bits, this is the best I could come up with. And for the record, I had to look at a lot of grody photos of ducks on the internet, so I hope you appreciate this:

See a faux pas with my foie gras? Send me an email with corrected info! It's amazing how little info there is out there for this stuff.

For the record, not to be super critical or anything, but the inside of a duck really stinks. Literally.

Heading to the oven

Now that I knew what I was dealing with, I felt I could move forward with dinner. (And just so you know, I actually saved the organs in a ziploc bag in the freezer for future brown gravy recipes. The neck I had no problem tossing out, much to the disappointment of Clark Griswold’s cousin Eddy, I’m sure.) I rinsed out the duck in the sink, then seasoned the inside with salt, pepper, thyme and a small sliced onion. I thought it was odd that this recipe didn’t call for me to smear butter all over the bird, like Julia’s chicken recipe, but as my husband pointed out, don’t question Julia. So I trussed the duck, having to make a slight adjustment when I realized one-half of the right wing was missing (your guess is as good as mine), and set the duck breast side up in a roasting pan, then added some chopped carrot and onion to the bottom of the pan. I put it in the middle rack of the 425-degree oven and let it cook for about 15 minutes to brown a little.

During that time, I peeled and quartered some carrots and tossed them into a sauce pan along with a cup of beef stock, a tablespoon of sugar, 3 tablespoons of butter and some salt and pepper. I cooked this for about 30 minutes while the duck kept baking in the oven.

After the initial 15 minutes, I took the duck out of the oven and flipped it over to its side, then turned down the heat to 350. I put it back in for another 40 minutes, checking it occasionally to remove any excess fat drippings (there really weren’t any). When the timer went off, I flipped the duck to its other side and let it cook for another 30 minutes.

Ready for cooking

At this point, Ben kept mentioning how good something smelled, and I agreed but was secretly thinking, “Hm…that doesn’t smell like duck. It smells like carrots.” So I went to check on the glazed carrots…and they were beginning to burn. They had one minute left to cook. Dang it. I pulled them off the stove and stirred them up and was encouraged to see that only a few had burnt bottoms. But I also noticed most of the “syrupy sauce” had burned away and the carrots weren’t very glazed. Looking at the clock I saw that I had time to make another batch that would be ready just as the duck came out of the oven, so I decided to give it another try.

About 15 minutes before the duck was finished, I flipped it onto its back and salted it a bit, then put it back in the oven for its final baking time. At this point, Ben made the stuffing and I checked the carrots, which I was relieved to see looked perfect. All that was left once the duck came out of the oven was for me to make an easy sauce to drizzle on top. I removed the finished duck to a platter and drained all but a tablespoon of the fat from the roasting pan. I took the rack out, then added a cup of beef stock and brought it to a boil on the stove, scraping up coagulated juices and crushing the carrots and onions in the pan. Off heat, I swirled in some butter and strained it into a bowl. Dinner was ready!

Roasted Duck

I’m not sure I’d ever had duck before last night. Quail maybe, but not duck. So I didn’t know quite what to expect. Because it didn’t call for butter, I assumed it was fattier than chicken, but that’s about all. I sliced some meat and put it on our plates, topped with a little bit of sauce, and added a helping of carrots and stuffing. Everything looked and smelled terrific! The duck was golden brown, but not crispy, and the inside was juicy and moist. The glazed carrots were tender, but not mushy, and the sauce was a perfect consistency. (Definitely worth re-doing.) The stuffing was wonderful as always, because really, how can you ever go wrong with Stovetop?

When I bit into the gray duck meat, I was surprised to discover it tasted very much like turkey, and I could suddenly understand why many people serve it for holiday dinner. It was a little fatty, and as Julia warned, there isn’t as much meat on a duck as there is on a chicken, so we didn’t have very many leftovers (but that’s also because we both went back for seconds). The meat was very tender, and the sauce was just right – almost like an au jus for beef. While I think I might still prefer chicken or turkey over duck, Ben and I were both pleasantly surprised and agreed we would have duck any time.

Roasted duckling with glazed carrots and stuffing

The carrots, I have to say, were my favorite part of the meal; I think because they turned out better than I could have expected. When I bit into them, I was surprised to see that they didn’t seem to taste like carrots at all – the richness of the beef stock and sugar combined with the flavor of the carrots made an entirely new taste that’s difficult to describe. Like carrots but beefier? I don’t know. What I do know is there are none leftover, and even Ben, who is not a fan of cooked carrots, cleaned his plate. I highly recommend you try these, if for no other reason than how simple they are to make! Carrots, beef stock, sugar, butter and a little salt and pepper. BAM! Done! (Make these. Seriously.)

This meal reminded me of a mini-Thanksgiving dinner, between the turkey-ness of the duck and the richness of the carrots and the homestyle stuffing, all we needed was a slice of pumpkin pie (the ingredients of which are in my pantry, even though Julia doesn’t offer a French recipe). Instead, we settled for ice cream sundaes and vegged out on the couch, full, happy, and warm from bellies of duck and wine.

Yes, people. It’s true. I’m back.

– Jessica

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