Despite growing up around livestock (my family raised dairy goats, chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep and rabbits at various times), I’ve never had much to do with the process of turning a live animal into food. I’m not particularly bothered by the idea of eating animals, as long as they are raised well and killed humanely. All of our food comes from other living things, whether plant or animal. However, it’s a little different when you’ve met the animal you are going to eat, and even more so when you are present at, or responsible for, its death.
Jon and I have been buying more and more of our meat locally, and currently have pork, beef and lamb in our freezer from Skagit and Snohomish County farmers. We haven’t yet found a good source for chickens or ducks, but we’re working on it. But the more we buy whole animals straight from the farm, the more we realize how little we know about actual slaughter and butchering practices, and how to get the most from an animal. I don’t picture us raising animals for meat (not on our current property, anyway), but I really feel that knowing our meat from the ground up makes us better cooks.
Hence Duckfest, a workshop designed for just this sort of situation. We spent the first weekend of 2010 on Shaw Island in Puget Sound, learning to slaughter, butcher and cook ducks. The class was put on by chef and farmer Neal Foley, aka Podchef, and by chef, teacher and author Kate Hill, who graciously came out from her farm and cooking school in Gascony to demonstrate cassoulet and confit making. I love her book (sadly out of print at the moment), and I’ve been wanting to visit her school for a long time, so this was a wonderful opportunity – a taste of France just a few miles from our house!
The workshop lasted three days. We ate a vast amount of amazing food and took far too many pictures, so to spare my patient readers I’ll be writing it up in three installments. Here is day one (Cassoulet):