In case a recap is necessary, I bought a duck for cooking, only to get home and discover that I had bought the whole duck – head and feet included. After going through a mental debate on the advantages of vegetarianism (vegetarians don’t have to cut the heads off ducks), I chose to remain omnivorous, and finish the butchering job the Asian Food Mart started before my purchase.
Tall-Sister was my photographer and researcher for this (as I would have had to wash my hands over 40 times without her help, to avoid spreading raw duck germs everywhere), and found this blog that takes you through the entire process of butchering a chicken. It was similar enough to butchering a duck, and immensely helpful. If my pictures are less-than-appetizing to you, his are a bit more professional looking, without my focused/upset/fiendish facial expressions.
I might have made the decision that if I can’t deal with the fact that my meat-food had a face, then I shouldn’t eat meat food, but I still had a bit of trouble with the process. And no, this isn’t for everyone – I’m not saying that people who eat meat ought to be able to butcher their own animals. Short-Sister left the room, gagging, even just at the idea of watching me finish the butchering of Duck. Check out the previous post for my entire Duck-dilemma. This post will pretty much entirely be about prepping the duck for eating. This duck is going to be cooked following Alton Brown’s recipe for Christmas Duck, and this post brings you almost all the way up to the actual cooking-of-the-duck, which will happen on Sunday.
Bend the joint to ensure you know where it is, and, using a sharp knife, cut between the two pieces of bone. With a sharp enough knife, you can cut through the bone without too much issue, but, if you want it to look like your standard roast chicken, the drumsticks have the knuckle-end of the leg
bone on, and no extra bits of bone. The first one might be rougher than the second – the second foot took me only a few moments to remove, because I had figured out the shape of the joint, and also gotten over a bit of my fear-of-touching-the-duck. Twisting the joint, or bending the leg tightly while you’re cutting helps to separate the two bones a bit.
What are we doing with them? I’m planning to make stock out of the duck carcass, and have stuck them in a ziplock bag in the fridge for now, so that I can use them in a few days when I go to make the stock. To make a good stock, it’s important to have a lot of cartilage in the process – it makes the gelatin that gives you a really thick and flavorful stock. They won’t stay in for actual soup making, but simmering them in the stock water will add some flavor and gelatin to the overall stock.
With a sharp knife, feel out the area near the head, in order to find a joint between two neck bones. This, for me, was mostly brute force. You’ll have to move the head around a bit, to access your cut from different angles. This is easiest with a very sharp knife. I also think it would have been easier for me with a bigger knife, one I could more easily have pressed down on.
What are we doing with it? Nothing. I’m guessing it would probably add flavor to the stock, but I couldn’t do it (if you are planning on doing that, do some research first to find out if there are any issues with adding the head to your stock). I also couldn’t give it to Dog, because I had no idea whether the head is safe for dogs (like raw chicken backs are), and also because it had eyes, and I just couldn’t deal with that. So, it went out to the city compost bin – if you do backyard compost, be careful about deciding to put meat products in compost pile, because it can attract raccoons and rats. We have a city-operated compost program, so we put all our meat products in the bin for pickup, and all our vegetable bits in our own compost bin.
The Neck and Spine:
If you’re planning on having a standard roast duck, you can skip cutting the head off, and just do the same neck-joint cut, but at the base of the neck, instead of at the base of the skull. You’ll end up with your standard whole-chicken shape. Since I was doing a flattened duck, I took the entire spine out, neck and all. I use metal
scissors, which works really well, though still requires some brute force. Starting at the tail end, cut up towards the head area, close to the spine. You want to stay close, to avoid removing any of the meat along with the spine. As long as your scissors are sturdy, they shouldn’t have any issue cutting through the ribs. You can repeat on the other side of the spine, from the tail, or, if you’d prefer to keep your cut on the same side as your hand, rotate your duck, and cut back down from the neck to the tail. Press the duck out flat after that, and, if it isn’t flattening nicely, score the breastbone with your knife (don’t cut through), that should help.
What are we doing with it? I briefly considered feeding it to the dog, because, as I said before, raw chicken backs are safe for dog consumption (no other chicken bones, though, raw or cooked – they splinter), but decided to add it to the stock as well. Chicken backs are very inexpensive, so it isn’t like he’ll be going without, and I’ve heard that duck fat is supposed to be really flavorful. I’m assuming this means that duck stock will be very tasty as well, so I’m going to try to make as much of it as possible.
Once the duck had been entirely butchered and flattened, flip it over so that the skin is facing up, and score the skin and the fat on the breast. The idea is that you don’t want to cut to the meat at all. A trick for doing this is to lay the flat of a very sharp knife tight against the breast of the duck. Keeping it on its side, draw the knife towards you, along it’s length, so that the blade slices through a bit of the skin and fat. This should help you avoid getting to the meat. It worked pretty well, even with my medium-sharpness knife that I used to butcher the bird. It’s easier the second time, once you have a better feel for just how much force is required to cut through the skin. Cut off any excess neck flap skin, as well as excess fat near the tail (there are two big pockets of it right at the base of the tail, on the inside of the duck).
Once was done, I rubbed both sides of the duck with coarse salt. Regular salt will work as well, according to Alton Brown, but I had Kosher salt available, so I used it. I used about a quarter of a cup to coat things to my satisfaction, though Alton suggests using about a third of a cup for a 5 lb bird. My family is pretty focused on lowering our salt intake, though, so I reduced the salt in this as well.
I lined a roasting pan with paper towels, and lay the duck, breast-side-up, in the pan. Alton says to leave it uncovered in the bottom shelf of your fridge for 3 or 4 days, until the skin has a parchment-like consistency. I’m hoping that leaving it from Thursday night to Sunday morning will be enough to acquire this consistency.
Next post – cooking the duck, and everything else we’re making for Hogswatch! If you have any votes/suggestions for what we should do for the little chickens we’ll also be cooking, post below!