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Westchester Magzine,  June 2006  Click to read the review

Distinctive Dining: A Tale of Two Restaurants
Westchester County Times,
September 2004 Read the Review...

The Journal News, Wednesday, January 8, 2003   |  Duck recipes from this article

Try This At Home
by Elizabeth Johnson
Photo by Mark Vergari

Take 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 his mother.

"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 owned.

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 Jan. 23.)

He loves the silky texture of foie gras. The beefy, steaklike flavor of muscovy. The crispy, crunch skin of a roasted Long Island duck.

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 seasons.

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 own fat.

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 a party."

"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 it's not."

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 flamb 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.

Duck recipes from this article...

 

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