This is a picture of Bubba eating duck cracklings.
That’s correct. Duck cracklings, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, are fried pieces of rendered duck skins. If that sounds crappy to you then don’t waste your time with this. I will explain how and why we are blessed with these small crunchy bits of heaven later. For now what you should know is that duck cracklings are one of my trophies. I look upon them as the cook’s spoils. So rarefied are these crunchy culinary elixirs that enjoying them is relegated almost exclusively to those who have the skill, and patience to work for a boss who has vision and is cheap enough to require their production. Until now, eating them has been one of the few fringe benefits of my cooks, particularly Bubba.
Creating them is a bit of a process. We break down our ducks 3 times a week. Each whole duck weighs about 4 ½ pounds. Each duck gives us 2 breasts, 2 legs, 2 wings, 1 liver, 1 heart, bones, a few bits of trim meat and a fair amount of skin that gets trimmed off the legs and breasts. It’s not hard to imagine the legs and breast making money for us in a very tasty fashion. The rub is that we pay for the whole bird by the pound. The legs and breasts only account for about half the weight of the duck. It would be disrespectful to that poor bird and frivolous of us to simply discard the remaining half. So, the wings become duck sugo. The bones become stock. The livers become a sauce (more on this later), and the skin gets rendered for duck fat. When we render the skin for fat, the bronzed bits of shin left on the bottom of the pot are our little trophies at the end of the night. A little salt, a bit of chili and we have the worlds best beer snack while we clean the hoods.
Why should our beer snacks be so important outside of their deliciousness?
They are the kernel of an idea for a salad.
Bubba and I were snacking on duck cracklings a while back. Like many times before, he suggested that we unleash duck cracklings on the dining public. In the past it seemed negligent to give away our prized snacks over the bevy of beautiful vegetables that are waiting to make a show on our menu. The difference this time was that Bubba had suggested this in December. December is slim pickins’ for us in the local vegetable department which makes it difficult for us to come up with ideas for new menu items.
The timing of Bubba’s exhortations could not have been better. That very day I had recognized that we were stockpiling duck meat trimmings and livers in our freezer. Duck meat, duck livers, duck cracklings… There’s a whole animal dish in there somewhere. But I already had a great duck entrée on the menu and I wanted ideas for a salad. Bubba saw that the wheels were turning, just not quite fast enough. “What if we used the duck liver sauce from the previous duck entrée as a dipping sauce for the cracklings?” he asked.
The duck liver sauce he was referring to is a sauce that we use now and again here at Park Kitchen as a condiment. It would be perfect. Slightly sweetened with red wine braised onions. Slightly sour with vinegar. It’s like ketchup. Trust me. A great foil for duck cracklings.
But duck cracklings and dipping sauce is still just a great stoney beer snack. A great salad needed substance, structure, visual appeal and balance. The substance could easily be provided by poached fingerling potatoes. The leaves of brussels sprouts, a trusty winter staple, could provide the structure. Mustard and pickles would be a natural if not slightly stodgy complement to this sturdy concoction. What if we pickled a fruit for this salad? Fruit and duck go way back together. Oranges would work but pears would be better. My favorite new way to make pickles is to compress fruit in our kryovac machine. With no cooking at all, it renders intriguing transparent slices of fruit that look and feel cooked but taste deliciously raw and fresh. Compressed pears it is.
But what about the scrap duck meat? It would be elegant if we could incorporate all of the spare duck parts into one salad. Usually what we do with the spare duck parts is cure them to make duck ham or incorporate them into terrines and pate. The salad that was formulating in my head could use a touch of salt. Instead of simply adding salt to the dish, I decided to try making duck jerky out of the scraps and using it to salt the salad. Duck jerky is easy to make and who doesn’t love a little jerky with their duck cracklings?
Duck parts and stoney beer snacks for cooks can be powerful tools. They can be used to create an intriguingly delicious salad on the menu now at your local Park Kitchen.
Ask for it by name. It’s called “The rest of the duck salad”.
Posted by Scott. Jan 6th 2011