From the Ground Up: The whole duck
by Ann M. Evans & Georgeanne Brennan
In November, before the holidays, we trundled off to an all day duck charcuterie class at the Fatted Calf in Napa. About 13 people from all over northern California gathered there to learn how to cut up whole ducks and make various classic French charcuterie from them.
Our duck day began early, about 8 a.m., as we headed south on Interstate 80 from Winters, and west on Highway 12 winding our way through the hills with their fall colored grape vines. Our destination was the acclaimed Fatted Calf Charcuterie at the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. We arrived after only a short 45 minutes, even on that foggy, rainy day.
Owned by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller, the Fatted Calf has locations in Napa, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and on Fell Street in San Francisco. Every product is handcrafted with the highest quality materials supplied by local farms; organic and hormone-free meats, natural salts and seasonings, and organic herbs and produce.
A quick wait in the retail area had us both spotting sausages and cuts we later took home at our 10 percent student discount, along with a book under Ann’s arm, “Pork & Sons” by Stéphane Reynaud. We were ushered through the double swinging doors by one of Taylor’s butchers and into the kitchen. It’s always surprising how much food can be produced in such small commercial kitchens.
In twos, we selected a station in front of a cutting board, some very sharp knives and a two whole, dressed ducks because the first order of business was to watch Aaron Gillian, one of the butchers who helped teach the class butterfly or “spatchcock” a whole duck. This involved removing all its bones so the body would lay flat and could be stuffed with a fig and hazelnut sausage, rolled up, trussed and baked.
As we worked on our ducks, Taylor roamed the kitchen giving advice, answering questions, telling butcher tales. We met our fellow students, half men half women and mostly middle-aged. Some were hunters, others home cooks, and still others said they never missed a class of Taylors if they could get in. His classes fill up within days of opening.
The first part of the class was occupied with the butchering and lots of knife work. Next we learned how to prepare and clean a duck gizzard and take off the silver skin. The gizzard is the muscle that digests grain, so it is meaty, rich and robust. Taylor fried these up for us while we learned how to use a large grinder to make sausage to fill the crepinettes.French in origin, crepinettes are small, slightly flattened sausages. Using Taylor’s recipe, we made ours with duck and pork, pork back fat, bay leaf, toasted coriander, allspice berries, white wine, fresh thyme and chopped picholine olives. Crépine is the French word for “pig’s caul,” in which a crépinette is wrapped instead of a casing. We held up the lacy white sheets of caul fat for all to admire, so fresh and beautiful, and after cutting it in squares, took turns wrapping the sausage mixture in the caul fat.
Taylor and his crew had about four different recipes going at once by now, including the duck liver mousse. That required several students to do the calculations on how much of what to add to quadruple the recipe – as Taylor said, “We’re butchers, not mathematicians.”
We made duck confit, and duck Rillettes – a refined French appetizer in which we used three quarts of duck fat (which gives you an idea of how good it was), six duck legs, some spices and cognac. Various processes are used over a day-long period, but in the end the meat is shredded by hand, working in the fat to create a creamy, very smooth texture.
The heavy use of knives behind us, Taylor broke out some wine to go with the snacks –— a spread of samples of sausage and salami from the front of the house and fresh bread from the Model Bakery next door.
After the last crepinette was stuffed, it was time to stuff ourselves. Lunch awaited, a family-style occasion around a large table off to one side in the busy Oxbow Market. We feasted on Boneless Stuffed Duck, Kale Salad, Couscous Salad and more wine. The class was a day of fun, food and learning — well worth the time and expense, and we were home by 4 p.m., each with a packet Taylor had assembled from the duck products we had made.
Duck Liver Mousse
Chicken liver, much more easily found, can be substituted here for chicken liver mousse. This recipe is adapted from Taylor Boetticher’s recipe we made in class at the Fatted Calf. Whole duck, duck legs, and breasts are available at Nugget Markets throughout the region, and at large Asian markets.
2 ½ pounds duck livers, trimmed of any veins and discoloration
1 tablespoon duck fat, pork fat, or butter, for cooking the livers
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon quatre epices (see separate recipe or purchase premade)
¼ teaspoon curing salt (optional – we don’t use)
2 tablespoons Cognac (Armagnac or Calvados)
12 ounces softened butter (3 – 4 ounce cubes)
Putting It Together
Mix the livers with the salt, quatre epices and curing salt if using and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferable overnight. This mousse or paté goes well on thin slices of sweet French baguette, crostini or crackers. Serve as an appetizer.
To cook the livers, place a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over a medium flame. When warm, add the duck fat or butter and add all the duck livers to the pan. Stir frequently until the livers firm up slightly but are no longer rare in the middle, about four to six minutes. Check one or two to make sure they are done but still pink inside. Don’t cook to well done. Turn out the livers onto a paper-line cookie sheet, let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.
When cold, puree in a food processor for about two minutes, then add the butter and cognac. This can be done in batches if the machine is too small, but be sure to let the livers puree on their own until smooth before adding the butter.
Pass the mixture through a sieve, mix again and taste for seasoning. It is now ready to eat, or it can be refrigerated in a plastic-lined terrine and refrigerated to cut nice slices from. Makes about two pounds.
2 tablespoons ground black pepper, or a combination of 1/2 tablespoon white and 2-1/2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cloves
2 tablespoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Mix ingredients together. Store in a sealed container for up to one year. May add powdered ginger in place of cinnamon.
Artisan Food Classes
~ Fatted Calf www.fattedcalf.com; sign up for newsletter, classes typically sell out well in advance.
~ Cole Ogando, who operates the Preserve Public House in Winters with his wife Sara, is an accomplished charcuterie-maker in the Italian tradition, and will offer small classes by special arrangement. Contact him at www.preservedrinkery.com
~ Cheese: Sasha Lauren (firstname.lastname@example.org), a gifted cheesemaker, offers classes at various locations, but also private classes for small groups by special arrangement. Contact her directly.
~ Check cooking classes offered through Davis Food Co-op and Sacramento Natural Food Co-op for opportunities.
Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of the forthcoming The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms, (March 2012.) Co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo, they have a food and marketing consulting firm, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm fresh food in school lunch. Reach them at email@example.com.