On the third and final day of Duckfest, we made confit, rillettes and pâté.
When we got to the farm on Sunday morning, the table was well laden with leftover bagels, plus a few sheets of freshly made cinnamon rolls.
As we ate breakfast, Kate was beginning the process of rendering the duck fat we’d collected off the carcasses the previous day. She was careful not to get the fat too hot – just enough to melt most of it off of the solids, but not enough to crisp them up.
On the second day, we slaughtered ducks.
Or, to be more precise, some of us slaughtered ducks, and we all plucked, butchered and ate them.
As you might expect, there are some slightly graphic photos in this post (although I left out the worst ones) so proceed at your own risk.
The day began cool and misty.
We met at the farm for strong coffee and vast quantities of freshly made bagels with homemade butter and smoked salmon. The bagels were fantastic – Neal’s wife is an amazing baker.
Garbing ourselves in fetching outfits and accompanied by extremely excited farm dogs, we went out to the duck shed and listened to Neal expound on the finer points of humane slaughter.
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):
We finally made it over the mountains for a secondary Christmas with my parents (with some difficulty, involving a great deal of ice, rain and traffic), and my father cooked a duck in our honor. It was served with mashed potatoes, duck gravy and carrots with morels, and it was fabulous. But, as with a great deal of my father’s cooking, the true beauty arose with the leftovers, as a Duck Noodle.
A few months ago we were given a gift: a whole duck breast, wrapped and frozen. One of the goals written on my “things to cook in 2007” list is “More Duck!” so I’ve been wanting to try it for awhile – I love duck in restaurants but have only once tried cooking it.
Things did not go swimmingly. When J. got home he took the duck out of the meat drawer where it had been defrosting, to find that the bag it was in was not leak-proof and there was raw duck juice all over the place. He was cleaning up the mess when I got home. I took the duck out of its packaging and poked at it a bit – it still had a chunk of rib cage attached. Every recipe for duck breast that I have is for boneless. Sigh. I tried to debone it, but I am utterly hopeless – a previous attempt to cut up a whole chicken resulted in tears and recriminations against various cookbook authors who said it would be easy. So J. deboned the duck, showing a level of patience and persistence which is obviously beyond me. Continue reading