Saturday, December 13, 2008

Roast Duck with Celery Roots, Beets, and Asparagus

I recently heard about a new butcher shop in Alexandria, Virginia called Let's Meat on the Avenue.  They specialize in local pasture fed and naturally fed meat.  Obviously, I had to check it out.  It's a great little butcher shop, just what I've been looking for in the area.  The selection is good and you can get custom cuts and order specialty things that they don't always have.  While I went in looking for grass fed beef, I ended up getting a duck.  It wasn't local like most of the other meat (farm raised in Indiana), but I found I was in the mood for fowl.  If you are in northern Virginia or DC and appreciate meat with a traceable source that has put real thought and care into how they farm (as well as a butcher that understands that) this is the butcher shop for you!

Ingredients:
  • Duck
  • Brine
    • Apple cider
    • Kosher salt
    • Garlic
    • Rosemary
    • Sage
    • Thyme
    • Juniper berries (lightly crushed)
    • Pepper
    • Celery salt
    • Paprika
  • Rub
    • Kosher salt
    • Cane sugar
    • Paprika
    • Cloves
    • Black pepper
    • Red pepper
    • Garlic Salt
    • Celery Salt
    • Oregano
    • Basil
  • Celery Root
  • Beets
  • Asparagus
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Apple Cider

Procedure:
    Like most of the meat I've prepared in the last year, this started out with a brine.  I took some apple cider, added the ingredients listed, simmered it for about 45 minutes, and let it cool.  I removed the giblets from the duck, cut off a little excess fat and skin, and rinsed it well.  The brine and the duck met each other in a ziplock bag and moved to the fridge, where they together pursued perfection of flavor and texture for the next 24 hours.
    The next evening, I cut up a celery root, three beets, and a bundle of asparagus.  These were covered in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and placed in a baking pan with a little cider and a fowl roasting rack.  A fowl roasting rack holds a bird in a V-shaped rack a bit above the bottom of a roasting pan.  This keeps the whole bird in the air and allows the vegetables placed underneath to receive a slow shower of flavorful drippings. If you've never used celery root, I highly recommend it.  It is a large white root vegetable that you can prepare the same ways you can prepare potatoes.  However, they have a nice subtle celery flavor that blows potatoes out of the water.  They are an easy way to take a meat and potatoes kind of meal and kick it up to a higher level.  I only discovered celery root recently and it is my new favorite thing.
    Once the pan was prepared, I mixed up a rub of equal parts cane sugar and kosher salt, plus the seasonings listed above.  I took the duck out of the brine, rinsed it lightly, smeared it with a little olive oil, and covered it with the rub, including the cavity.  Remember that rubs are called 'rubs' for a reason - don't just sprinkle meat with it, really rub it in.  This grinds it into the skin and fat and keeps the rub from running off with the drippings while you cook.  Instead, the flavor infuses the meat and makes the skin slightly crusty and extremely tasty.  Once rubbed, the duck got its cavity stuffed with the rest of my fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, and garlic.
    I placed the duck breast down in the fowl roasting rack above the vegetables.  I've started cooking birds breast down whenever I remember to.  This lets all of the fatty, flavorful drippings seep through the prime meat, making it juicier and more succulent than when baked on its back.  I roasted the duck on the bottom rack at 325 for about 2 hours.  I then flipped it on its back and roasted another 30 minutes breast up because the back was perfectly done and the breast needed a little more heat.  
    While this description is long, roasting like this is quick and easy.  You only have to roughly chop the vegetables and the meat preparation is very fast.  The only time consuming part is the actual roasting, but that's a fairly passive undertaking.  

Resulting Deliciousness:  
    This duck turned out exactly how I wanted it to.  The skin was just a little crusty and had a powerful flavor that complimented the meat.  The celery root, beats, and asparagus were delicious - they held their own and did not just taste like drippings, as could easily happen with things like potatoes and carrots.  I was really happy with the way this turned out.  
    Duck is a naturally fatty and flavorful meat, and if you cook it too fast or don't let it drip, you risk ending up with a greasy meal.  This was not greasy at all.  The fat that did not drip off to enhance the vegetables stayed with the skin and took on the flavors of the brine and the rub.  That flavor made the difference between feeling like you were eating a nice piece of meat with a nasty strip of fat, and feeling like you were eating a well balanced, flavorful, well prepared cut.
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