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Ducking the cooking

December 26th, 2003 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I thought a well-timed illness might provide me with an excellent excuse to avoid my annual cooking requirement. Last year I weaseled out of cooking Thanksgiving dinner by taking the good wife to visit my family, where my sister-in-law provided a fine and truly gigantic meal.

I was informed by ConnyWho is Conny?, as Christmas approached, that I was still on the hook for preparing a meal. But to up the ante, instead of turkey, Conny View definition in a new window requested duck.

She’s a brave woman, I’ll give her that.

Poking around on the good ol’ Internet led me to a manageable recipe for baked duck breast wrapped with bacon. Everyone knows that bacon makes everything better, so I knew if all else failed we’d at least have bacon. I also liked that the recipe called for soaking the breast in salt water the night before, to remove the gamy taste, and I’m not a fan of gamy duck.

We got a nice duck breast from the Amish Market, which I cut in half and dutifully began to soak on Christmas eve. The morning of Christmas Donald was taken out of his briny bath and lightly marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. When time came for the baking, I pinned the bacon around the breast halves with toothpicks, placed them in a baking dish, and slid them into the oven.

My sense of culinary competence was pretty high at this point, but the fireworks hadn’t started yet.

I am not sure of the exact physics involved, but I’m not afraid to speculate. Duck breast is not a low fat food, especially when the skin is on it, like ours. As it baked, the oil collected in the bottom of the pan. I had suggested before putting it in the oven that I use a rack, but Conny was concerned that since the recipe didn’t mention such things, I might dry the duck out too much. Seemed reasonable. Who am I to question a recipe? I’m a cooking nitwit.

Bang!

So the duck is sitting in slightly less than a quarter of an inch of very hot oil. The duck has also soaked in water. Water, which by now, is expanding into steam inside the duck breast.

Bang!

After I heard it a few times, I went over the oven to investigate. Everything looked fine, and the bacon sure smelled good. I watched for a moment to be sure.

Bang! Hisssssss!

It seems that steam was shooting out of the duck in little bursts, and reacting violently with the hot oil in the pan. Each little explosion would seen a fine spray of oil throughout the oven. Oil which would then burn a little bit. And burning oil makes a little smoke.

Time to turn on the vent over the stove. And open the windows. And perhaps the door.

Even the dog was getting worried now. Animals know when something bad is happening.

Once the room was ventilated, I realized that other than making a bit of smoke and big mess in the oven, the fireworks were harmless. After a few glasses of eggnog, one could even consider them festive.

We turned the oven off and left the duck alone for 10 minutes before taking it out, just to be sure it was full disarmed. And other than slightly overcooking it (and we didn’t cook it for nearly as long as the recipe suggested) it came out pretty good. I’d try it again, though maybe without soaking it.

But henceforth we shall call this recipe “Fireworks Duck.”

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