The Journal News,
Wednesday, January 8, 2003 |
from this article
Try This At Home
by Elizabeth Johnson
Photo by Mark Vergari
it from restaurateur Jonathan Pratt, cooking with duck isn't
as difficult as it may seem
When Jonathan Pratt was 6, he asked for chicken at a family
dinner at the Plumbush Inn in Cold Spring. After one taste of
the bird, he dug in.
"This is the best chicken I've ever tasted," he told
"It's not chicken," she said. "It's duck."
Pratt laughs about it now--"my mother tricked me"--but
it began a love affair that continues today.
He would only accept scraps of duck from the French chefs at
Peter Pratt's Inn in Yorktown Heights, which his parents then
He became an expert on the various breeds when he worked as
a sales manager at D'Artagnan in the 1990s. He began celebrating
duck by cooking course after course of it for an annual festival
after he took over his parents' place in 1995. (This year, it's
He loves the silky texture of foie gras. The beefy, steaklike
flavor of muscovy. The crispy, crunch skin of a roasted Long
He even prefers duck stock over chicken stock in many recipes
because of its richer, more intense flavor.
Duck has always been a big seller at the restaurant, he says,
but different varieties of duck are popular during different
In summer, he treats duck breast like a beef dish--grilling
it medium-rare, for example.
"But as soon as a leaf turns orange, we put the slow-roasted
duck on the menu."
And many customers, especially those who have been dining at
Peter Pratt's Inn for years, wouldn't have it any other way.
Almost all ducks bred in North America are descended from the
Mallard, the duck with the green ring on its neck. Mallards
are usually small--about 2 1/2 to 4 pounds--and have hardly
any fat. The ones we eat are grown in netted areas but are allowed
to fly free and swim during the day. Mallards yield a very dark
meat, almost like goose, and are best prepared by roasting quickly
at high temperature.
Long Island ducks, which weigh about 6 pounds, are descendants
of white Peking ducks (a variety of Mallards, but originally
brought from china in the 1800s; they are sometimes referred
to as Pekin). Long Island ducks are the most famous and most
popular breed. They are the ones used to make Peking duck (the
dish) and for roasting. These ducks have a lot of fat, which
needs to be rendered out.
Muscovies are nonmigrating birds that are originally from the
Amazon. They're extremely lean and have a beefy taste. these
are the breasts Pratt like to sear and serve during the summer.
If you cross a male Muscovy and a female Peking you get a Moulard,
and the males are the duck used produce foie gras. Because Moulards
are older, they have a lot of fat on the breast and their legs
are best for confit, in which they are slowly cooked in their
Knowing the breeds will help cooks understand how they should
be prepared, though making duck a home is something people are
game to try.
"A lot of people don't want to try to cook duck,"
he says. "But it's the perfect thing to do in advance for
"The biggest complaint for the slow-roasted duck is that
it's not cooked enough," Pratt says. "For the Muscovy,
they're not good if they're cooked too much--they get tough."
In slow-roasting, the trick to telling when the whole duck is
finished is to pull its leg.
"If the leg bones wiggle free, like you could pull it out,
they're done," he says. "If it's still tight, then
To get the fat out of a Peking duck breast, score the skin--never
cut it off. The fat will render in the pan, and can be ladled
out with a spoon. (But save it--Pratt says there's nothing better
than potatoes cooked in duck fat.)
Pratt has one do-not-try-this-at-home suggestion.
Years ago, the restaurant used to flambé
duck at the table. One waiter was pouring Grand Marnier into
the pan and shaking it when the flame leaped out of the pan,
catching a diner's back on fire.
"My mother ran across the restaurant and slapped a wet
tablecloth on his back," Pratt says.
The diner remained clam.
"He said, 'No problem,'" Pratt says. "Just give
me the duck."
Two chef's recipes for duck.
from this article...