October 12, 2013

Allen Afield: You won't run afoul of cooking waterfowl after reading this book

By Ken Allen

Hank Shaw's "Duck, Duck, Goose" (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley) crossed my desk recently and wowed me within minutes, a superb cookbook with excellent recipes ranging from simple home-style to gourmet to myriad choices between. It went on sale Oct. 1.

This well-illustrated hardcover includes myriad top-notch color photos of food, presentations and how-to tips that tastefully illustrate waterfowl cookery. The book also offers advice on pairing duck and goose with wine and beer, field care, storage, natural history, lore, history with mankind and more. It costs $24.95.

Shaw starts the text with a bang, too. It begins with identification descriptions for various domestic and wild ducks and geese, tips for aging birds (crucial for deciding how to cook one) and a summary of the difficulty rating for each recipe, based on a star-key, one star for easy, and up to four and five stars for all-day affairs.

Color carving photos in "Duck, Duck, Goose" show how to deal with a cooked duck, and anyone who looks at this 9-photo illustration as well as other how-to images can present a masterful dinner spread.

During summers of my 16th and 17th years, I worked in an inn at Ocean Point and learned the proper manner of carving meat for serving. A superb chef cooked there in summer and at Bowdoin College during the school year. He'd perform his presentation art with me hanging over his shoulder as he explained the techniques.

My parents and uncles then had me carve turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef, salmon, etc.

"Duck, Duck, Goose" came in the mail unsolicited, an inappropriate PR move. As I have said many times here, once recently, domestic ducks are OK but in my book wild ones are inedible, which needs an explanation:

After graduating from college, I bought a 12-gauge shotgun, chocolate Lab with an excellent hunting pedigree, decoys, duck call and camo clothing, and went at it. Beaver ponds provided me with wood duck, teal, blacks and mallards, lakes with an even broader species range and coastal waters for sea ducks.

It took no time to discover wild ducks tasted awful to me, particularly divers, and my recipes from serious duck hunters ran the gamut. One method -- sauteing dabbling-duck breasts to medium rare -- proved tolerable, but even then, each mouthful made me grimace.

No one close to me would consider my eating habits as finicky, either, and I have chosen such strange dishes as snail, rattlesnake, alligator, ostrich and so forth around the world,

Furthermore, I am a cookbook author, specializing in wild foods with a French slant. In fact, my book had the title "Country Cooking" with a subtitle "With a French Flair," but that choice competed with another author, so the editor changed it to "Cooking Wild" -- erroneous because most of my recipes were for domestic foods.

My solution to disliking ducks? I bought an English setter and headed to the uplands for ruffed grouse, woodcock and ring-necked pheasant. However, a well-done baked woodcock tasted bad to me, so my early duck experiences influenced me to saute this migratory bird medium rare. With a St. Emilion, a savory rice dish and homemade French bread, woodcock was adequate for dinner but grouse was a hundred times better.

Here's one big disclaimer. I discourage anyone from eating wild meat that isn't well done, even though I do it with duck, woodcock and venison.

When cooked right, domestic duck pleases me, and my yardstick for the dish is the Village Inn in Belgrade Lakes Village. In the late 1970s, a cook there told me that the roasting method involved a low, hours-long time for tenderness.

Even domestic duck tastes livery and tough in some restaurants. It strikes me as surprising that such a storied duck restaurant lies near home.

Shaw gets into cooking domestic waterfowl and covers Pekin, Muscovy, Moulard and Rouen ducks, and Embden goose, and he summarizes the history of their domestication.

Shaw will be at Beale Street BBQ in Bath on Oct. 30.

Even if you're like me and don't care for wild waterfowl, "Duck, Duck, Goose" offers intriguing information, stuff that serious cooks should know. And the domestic waterfowl recipes are top-drawer. 

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

KAllyn800@yahoo.com

 

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