The Duck Neck Dish
This dish is like one big juicy fresh duck crackling cornucopia cradling even more goodness - its soothing decadence transports us and we are shocked back to the present with healthy peppery rocket. It is listed under MUSTS in my kitchen notebook, good in every single way. If I could, I would call this a Lyonnais dish. But it comes from a man in Paris.
When we first moved to France, I was really happy that Aude was passing along monthly issues of the Saveurs magazine to me. The recipes were my first French lessons. I would study them fastidiously with a dictionary. The thing about Saveurs recipes is that they are often from chefs, who like chef M in the cooking class, don't like to really be pinned down too much on ingredients and measurements, and sometimes won't mention a step while they’re doing it. With Saveurs magazine, what we've got to go on is a super styled finished photo of our goal, and sort of a quick rundown on how to execute it.
The recipes are for the people who know what's what in the kitchen, and a lot of slang words for ingredients and measurements are used as well. I remember getting so exasperated with Loïc when I ran across an ingredient I couldn't translate and he said he had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. "These people are crazy" he said. "How am I supposed to know what that is?" he’d say, scratching his head in his scientific way. There was one ingredient standing in the way of me making a certain soup and he wouldn't tell me what it was! I thought he was doing it on purpose and it got me in the fightin’ mood!
Those days are over and over the years the Saveurs magazine and I have come to a kind of detente. I don't ask more of Saveurs than they can give, and they give in their way. I understand. I look for inspiration, and you bet that magazine has lots to give, and with experience in the kitchen and a little bit of ingenuity, I have learned to fill in the blanks. For this recipe, the incredible combination of rocket and crispy browned duck skin is the jewel to be gleaned. In recounting this recipe, I am adding the American measurements and my notes and instructions.
Cous de canard farcis au risotto de roquette – Arugula Risotto Stuffed Duck Necks , a loose adaption from a recipe in edition no. 150 of Saveurs Magazine, by Jean-François Mallet
4 duck necks, whole, not deboned yet
2T. coarse sea salt
2 legs duck confit
200g. or about ¾ cup Arborio rice (for risotto)
15 cl or one small glass of white wine, any kind
150 grams or about 1 quart loosely packed fresh leaves of rocket (arugula)
80 grams or about 1/3 cup of grated parmesean cheese
salt & pepper
About Rocket: aka arugula, or roquette in French, comes in two different forms, wild and cultivated. The wild leaves have more flavor. Either one will do for this recipe and its presentation. Here in Lyon, we have a choice between shipped in from Italy, and locally grown and sold at the market. I have tasted both side by side for this recipe, and will recommend that in addition to paying less for the local, it tastes better too. While the imported version sizzles and pops like a sparkler, reminding us of it's name, the local version's peppery burst explodes on the palate like a healthy burst of sun and warms us from the inside out. Try and get some local rocket for this dish, it takes it to that higher plane. Everyone at the market should have it this time of year.
About confit: This is duck or goose cooked over a period of several hours immersed in its own fat. The result is succulentand moist slow cooked meat, that can be canned and put up for several months. The longer a meat that has been put up by this process is stored, the better it tastes. In fact, canned confit, the kind you can buy in the store, can be excellent indeed – it has had the time to age and do it’s magic in an airtight environment. You can prepare a confit yourself, and store it for occasions such as this. Your product, having been prepared carefully and lovingly at home, will taste even better than excellent indeed. If you do decide to prepare a confit just in time for this recipe, it won’t be as moist and succulent as one which has been in storage for awhile.
- De-bone the duck necks, following my instructions. Liberally sprinkle the outside of the neck skin with salt and place in the refrigerator (can be done up to 48 hours in advance). Remove and discard the esophagus tubes and any glands, and put the neck meat and bones into a stock pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, as you would any poultry stock, and let the stock simmer for 1 to 2 hours. An idea for this would be to debone the necks and set the stock to cook in the afternoon, if you plan to serve this dish for dinner, and let it simmer very slowly throughout the afternoon.
- Remove as much duck fat as possible from the duck legs confit, and set the fat aside for later use. Remove and mince the meat from the two legs, and place it in a large mixing bowl where you will mix the stuffing. Add the parmesean.
- Prepare the Risotto: Peel and mince the shallots. Melt 1 tablespoon of the fat from the confit and sauté the shallots without browning until they begin to turn translucent. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat with the duck fat. Once the risotto begins to turn clear, add the white wine and let it absorb into the rice.
Ladle the duck stock directly into the risotto, filling it to just cover the rice, and let it cook without stirring it, absorbing the stock. After adding stock about 4 times, the risotto should be al dente, and you can season it with salt and pepper and remove it from the heat. Let it cool while you prepare the rocket.
- Wash the rocket and chop all but a couple of handfuls of it finely (the recipe says to do this in the mixer, but I don’t recommend it.), and add it to the bowl with the minced confit de canard, and the grated parmesan.
Add the risotto and mix them together, and season. This can be done in advance and refrigerated for later use.
The stuffing actually fills the necks better when it is chilled and somewhat stiff. The recipe says to chill it for 20 minutes, while 10 minutes in the freezer will do. Just before stuffing the necks, add the egg to the stuffing.
- Stuff the necks rather full with the stuffing.
One neck ready to go in the oven.
The question of whether to tie, sew, or otherwise fix the necks closed for cooking comes to mind, and many traditional recipes call for you to fix the pouch closed. My investigations indicate also that if you want the skin to stay taut and thin across the stuffing, you must fix it closed. However, if you simply fold the skin underneath at each end, the neck skin retracts and thickens with cooking, thus squeezing the stuffing out of the end that provides the least resistance. It makes a pretty overflowing cornucopia-like presentation this way, and the neck is juicier in the end. If you prefer to keep the skin thin and crispy, fix it closed, by either sewing it, using a skewer, toothpicks, or string to keep it closed. If you do this, the skin will be thinner. Your choice. Place the stuffed necks in a large ceramic or cast iron dish, giving each room to breathe, room for the heat to get at them from all sides and make them a nice golden brown.
- Salt the outside, and add the remaining duck fat from the confit to the pan, and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 160C/350F. Baste the necks with the liberal amount of fat that is rendered by the neck skin every five minutes during this time. At the end of 30 minutes time, pour off the fat, sprinkle with grated parmesan, and turn up the heat to 200C/450F. Let it continue to brown and crispen on the outside to taste.
- Serve on hot plates with a fresh rocket salad, sprinkled with your choice of vinegar and seasoned with sea salt. There's no need to prepare a vinaigrette to go with the greens, they are just right as is with a little vinegar and salt.
I really loved the combination of the fresh rocket with the rich delicious taste of the duck and risotto. I think they were an excellent combination. Bravo!