Tuesday, October 10, 2006
A rare duck indeed
So it was my turn to don the mantle of "The Reluctant Gourmet" in the conspicuous absence of the Great Gourmet and Grand Gourmand, our own Peter Kleinman. And we had killed more than a few ducks on our opening day at Black Lake, 2006. ( I hope those stories are forthcoming.)
The menu was hoped to be elegant yet simple. Pan-seared duck and wild rice, a nice Finger Lakes wine, and a mixed greens salad with viniagrette. After a misfire with the finicky gas stove at "our" lodge over looking the Narrows of Black Lake, called Lakewood, I was off and cooking. Things went right and dinner was served...or at least that was how it could have been.
For the record, and in my defense, naturally, I felt I would do my good comrades in arms some small service in at least providing justification for my culinary choices, said choices having been foisted upon two unlucky comrades at least one other time.
According to L. P. De Gouy, author of the Bible of wild fish and game culinary artistry The Derrydale Cook Book of Fish and Game (1937), "The different methods of preparation of all the wild ducks including mallard, canvasback, and ruddy ducks, may be applied to the teal duck. Without exception, wild ducks should be cooked and served rare" (p.113). De Gouy goes on to say, "I have no apostolic (should we say academic instead) avocation, but if I had been a missionary instead of a chef, it would have been most certainly my irresistable duty to convert the culinary barbarism, the vandals, who under the pretense of enjoying a duck, be it wild or domestic, begin to bleed completely this delicious bird. They most certainly do not know that the duck. above all its excellent gifts in cookery, is a philosopher (my emphasis) and as such never worries, never frets, and never loses its presence of mind, having a sort of knowledge that it was born to end in a pot for the enjoyment of the human species. Then why throw away (or cook away) what is best, what is most precious in it--its blood?"(p. 126).
Irma Rombauer, the author of the bible of all cooking, The Joy of Cooking (I have the 1995 version) echoes the sentiment above when she writes "...most dark fowl is cooked vert-cuit or saignant, that is, roasted brown on the outside under high heat, but still rare and running with juice and blood within" (p. 436).
So I didn’t break any rules. No breech in culinary tradition, cultural norms or mores. But Taste, Taste is a finicky thing. There is of course the way food tastes. That kind of taste is comprised of five primary senses detected on the palate. They are salt, sour, sweet, bitter, and "umami"-a Japanese word describing a savory essence. All foods exhibit one or more of these components. Then there is Taste.
Taste (according to Wikipedia) refers to appreciation for aesthetic quality, significantly applying the purely physical term to an intellectual quality. In such contexts Taste begins to be used in a metaphorical sense to refer to certain degrees of cultural competence, closely related to the concept of discrimination; it can set distinctions between "tasteful" and "tasteless" or the embodiments of "good taste" or "bad taste", thus providing categories for social division and reinforcing cultural hierarchy.
So, Taste came into play at Duck Camp. Put simply, no matter what culinary luminaries like De Gouy and Rombauer have to say about internal temperatures of duck breast, the Band of Brothers at Black Lake Duck Camp insisted that red inside was tantamount to cultural incompetence and in bad taste, thus reinforcing a social hierarchy, in which I, the cook, was commanded to return to my post immediately and remedy the transgression post haste, which I dutifully did. I did my best to salvage the duck meal, but felt the sting of having been besmirched. Worse, this was a repeat performance, as I had served rare duck once before, with similar reviews, as I mentioned earlier. And of course, we are now dealing with the specter of Avian Bird Flu, complicating the Duck tar-tar issue considerably.
So here it is, my mea culpa. I am guilty of the aforementioned breech of taste, at least that of the Black Lake Band of Brothers, for which I humbly repent. I promise I will never burden my friends with bloody duck breasts again, so help me God.