Friday, May 22, 2009

Just in Time for the Holiday: Smoked Duck

Do you have a smoker? I do. It’s not something I would have run out and bought because smoking food has always sounded too elaborate for me. I picture beer drinking, back country men gathered around this contraption for hours poring over the right combination of woods and charcoal to get the meat just right. It’s just too much work. I love cooking in my kitchen and I love grilling but smoking just eluded me.

Then the Food Network came to my house to film an episode about BBQ beef ribs. They left me the grill they bought while here and it is also a smoker. I’m told it was about $150. Not bad. Now I’m a huge advocate of smoking meats and it is incredibly easy. I’m sure there are various devices that smoke meats but mine has a separate chamber for your coal or wood and the smoke flows through the main chamber and then out a chimney. The idea is to allow the smoke to permeate the meat adding great flavor while providing very low heat (175-200 degrees). The meat cooks very slowly over hours. This process breaks down connective tissues leaving the meat unbelievably tender. The process is simply to get a fire going in the outer chamber, put the meat in the smoker, close the lid, tend the fire by adding wood or charcoal over the next few hours, remove the meat then eat. The aforementioned elaborate part comes from the myriad of combinations of woods and techniques to get just the right “smoke”. Since I’m not a competitive griller/smoker I just use charcoal and hickory with the goal of keeping the fire hot and smokey. Again simple.

So what meat should you smoke? The answer is, whatever you like. Since my recent grill acquisition, I’ve done pork, beef and chicken; pretty standard. All of them came out perfect and delicious. A few weeks ago though, I bought a duck. I bought it on a whim not having a clue what I was going to do with it. Every time I opened the freezer, there was that duck. Still unsure of what to do with it, I decided I should defrost it. That would force my hand and make me cook it. A day later I had a defrosted duck but still lacked inspiration. When the light bulb finally went off I went outside to get the smoker fired up. With the coals flaming and while I waited for them to settle, I returned to my kitchen to dress this thing. While many folks have eaten and enjoyed duck, far fewer have prepared it. I’ve only made whole duck a few times myself but it has been years and I most certainly have never smoked or grilled duck before. I was up for the challenge.

I decided to stuff the cavity with a few flavors that I had on hand. After trimming the excess fat from around the cavity (there’s a lot of extra fat on a duck), I stuffed in a few orange wedges, onion, garlic, fresh thyme and rosemary. Then I very generously seasoned the outside with salt and pepper and headed to the smoker. On she went.

Over the next 4 hours I added a generous amount of new coals and water soaked hickory wood. I’d say I went out about once an hour to do this. It’s important to resist the temptation to open the lid too much but I did open it once just to make sure all was well. It’s a man thing. Not sure what I was thinking because it wasn’t going anywhere. It was missing head, feathers and feet (all the things required for escape). Now, four hours later, my duck looked perfectly smoked. To the kitchen with it because I wasn’t done. Since the fat layer on the outside of the duck is so thick, I wanted to be sure it was exquisitely crispy. To accomplish this, I popped her into a 450 degree oven for another 20 minutes. Her golden brown color now intensified, she was done.

Of course this was never going to pass Lisa or Olivia’s lips. Duck is completely out of bounds for them. So that left me and Lisa’s visiting father to enjoy this. Removing the breasts and slicing them, the pink smoke rings, a hallmark of a good smoking, permeated a full third of the way into the meat. The flavor was strikingly bold. Crispy, peppery skin surrounding moist perfectly smoked duck infused with the flavors of the garlic and oranges. I couldn’t have hoped for more. I followed up by enjoying the thigh and leg which also shared these striking qualities.

Ok not everyone has a smoker. I understand that. If you’re not ready to run out and buy one, the next best think would be to simply roast this same preparation at 200 degrees for four hours then remove from the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, then return the bird for another 20 minutes. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before addressing again. Certainly you will be missing the smokiness, but the duck flavors will stand very nicely on their own.

I have been away from my home for the past 2 weeks now and I can’t wait to fire up my new toy this long holiday weekend. Happy Memorial Day.