~By Kate H. Knapp
I crave duck like a newborn craves his/her mother’s milk. This need has gone beyond a simple pleasure and has now become a necessity. If duck is on the menu, in any form—confit, crispy, a l’orange, foie gras, shredded, you name it—I will undoubtedly do a little dance and order it with joy.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when this love affair began. It could have been the first time my grandmother made her shredded wild duck soaked in Grand Marnier and currant jam; maybe it was when I first tasted foie gras, seared and served with a pomegranate sauce; or possibly it was the first time I smelled the rich aroma of duck fat and heard it bubbling and popping on a griddle. The moment itself isn’t important, because some of my greatest memories have been defined by this delectable poultry. I simply have to think of the word, and a rush of flavors and places spring to mind.
There was the small café in Paris’s tourist-centric Place du Tertre, which served a confit so tender, it melted like butter on a hot summer Arizona sidewalk. It was my last night in the City of Light, and I knew each bite was one closer to the inevitable return to reality. Nothing since that moment has tasted so bitter sweet.
The first time I attempted cooking duck breasts when I didn’t tip the pan properly when flipping, and with the sound of a sizzle and pop, I suddenly had severe burns on my right eye and cheek. Though the scars faded, the lesson remained, as well as the memory of how delicious that particular duck tasted.
My 28th birthday, when I made the solo journey to Montreal to dine at Au Pied du Cochon, specifically for its duck dishes. I sat at the counter, another year older, and watched as the chefs danced about the open kitchen in perfect rhythm. The air filled with a hearty scent of searing duck and the sound of a boiling hot pan coming into contact with thick lard. I watched in awe as though I was witnessing Michelangelo lying high above my head with paintbrush in hand. This meal helped soften the blow of inevitable aging.
There was the first getaway I took with my boyfriend to Maine, where we made a surprise stop in Portland to eat at the restaurant, Duckfat. I ordered the gooey, salty poutine—potatoes fried in duck fat and topped with cheese curds and gravy—and waited with baited breath to see if he was indeed the man of my dreams. With his expression at the first bite, I knew I was in love.
Because of these moments, I continue to be surprised by how duck is so drastically overlooked and underappreciated. I find it sad to think that so many people have missed the chance to taste a perfectly scored and seared duck breast served with a cherry-port reduction sauce; to experience the textural dichotomy of a crispy and, yet, at the same time falling-off-the-bone tenderness of confit; or to even know the simple burst of flavor of potatoes fried in glistening duck fat.
It is these flavors that have made me who I am today. This small bird has transformed my life in ways that I have yet to discover. And my cravings go beyond the need for its distinct taste, but also include the knowledge that each bite will not soon be forgotten.