Fois Gras and Vertebrae



I grew up eating duck. When my dad catered, there was always a duck or duck products around. He steamed whole ducks in an enormous steamer then took them away, packed in milk crates, to deep fry on site. He made little white half moon shaped rolls to serve the meat in. At home we usually got random left over ducks or duck parts and we had a constant supply of duck fat and duck necks. The fat was used for cooking. Mom always used it as shortening for her apple-nut cake. The duck necks we ate, tugging each segment off the spinal cord and spitting the bones onto the table. Then for no good reason, sometimes dad would save the vertebrae, drying them on a string draped over the broomstick lodged above the kitchen sink.

When I got ducks the plan was to have roast duck for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But the hen didn’t start laying eggs until nearly the first of October. She laid pretty much an egg a day for 3 1/2 months. They were very good eggs. IMG_1850I baked cranberry buckle and cakes with them, I served them fried on bee bim bop. Based on food costs alone, excluding infrastructure investment or increased water costs, they cost me about $1.30 per egg. If I had ended up with at least one more hen, the investment would probably have been lower per egg, because of the percentage of food waste, etc. Having butchered my sole surviving duck, I wanted to use it a completely as possible.

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I started with the carcass, incompletely plucked. I ran out of patience with the feathers and put the whole thing on a tray in the oven, baked it to render out the fat, stripped off the still feathery skin and baked it again in the drippings, with the eye to making a duck confit. One is supposed to cover all the pieces with the fat, and I didn’t have quite enough grease for that, but I turned and baked it several times. The product is part duck jerky and part confit, but the meat is very tasty. IMG_1840

The organs were a bit more challenging. As a kid, I liked gizzard, but I couldn’t quite process the gizzard to my satisfaction. The tough membrane didn’t come out and I finally gave up. It was interesting to dissect it though, finding bits of lawn and scrap metal (!). The heart I put in with the confit. The embryonic eggs and liver I decided to make into a foie gras. I checked the internet for a recipe, Emeril Lagasse I think. It says various things about sauteing, and of course there are no eggs involved, but really how different is foie gras from deviled eggs anyway?IMG_1799 I put the eggs and livers in to bake with everything else, and when they were done, I put them in a blender with a bit of the broth and some of the ever-useful eau de vie. The recipes calls for cognac, which I don’t have, but my friend Stephanie who cooks with cognac told me that in the country people frequently just use their eau de vie when a there’s a call for cognac. So I put ours in the fois gras and felt very Authentic.

The fois gras was excellent despite its truly remarkable visual similarity to poo. (My daughter points out that a more gentile person would remark on the similarity to hummus). Unfortunately my children refused the “liver paste” and I ended up eating most of it.

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What I did not do was put any feathers or wings anywhere near the food, because, GROSS. Why do I feel the need to disclaim that? Well, you know all those paintings with roast swans on the table with all their plumage, and swan meat pies. People actually did that. The recipes are available on the internet and people apparently do reconstructions. I had the duck wings handy. But no.peacockpieswanpie

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