Duck, duck, larb! I spent a couple of days spattered in duck fat, playing with gorgeous, fresh, delicious ducks from former Eugenians Boondockers Farm, now located outside of Portland. I had offered to do a bit of recipe testing for Hank Shaw, the wild foods expert that visited us at the University of Oregon about a year ago. He’s coming out with a new cookbook for duck and geese, much to the delight of us all. You can read more about it at his award-winning blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.
Just to give you an idea of what he’s pondering, I made a very simple duck tagine with chestnuts, and the aforementioned duck larb, which is a Lao/northern Thai herb and meat salad. Thank goodness he eschewed the traditional duck blood and raw meat in the larb! Instead, I sliced the meat at medium (seared the big, meaty Saxony ducks a bit too long, but the smaller, more flavorful Ancona breasts were perfectly medium rare).
It was the first time I had broken down a duck, and it’s been a few years since I’ve disassembled a chicken, even, so it was kind of cool to do it. Bodies fill me with awe; there’s no better sense of how muscles and bones work together than by feeling your way down the contours of a spine, along a strip of fat, across and around a joint. You can get a sense of how beings move, and how humans are connected with other species. For me, it’s a powerful experience to work with meat.
And if anyone ever tells you cooking is just domestic drudge labor, hit them on the head with an anatomy book.
Anyway, the ducks were fantastic, and I’m so thrilled I now have carcasses for duck stock and a mound of duck fat to render down and use all winter long. Boondockers grow two very rare species of heritage species ducks, Ancona and Saxony. Ancona are smaller, and have wonderfully rich flavor. Saxony are big and meaty, with clean, moist, ducky flesh. You can buy slaughtered and vacpacked roasting birds or ducklings to raise your own. The Ancona, especially, as an endangered species would be a terrific addition to your backyard flock. They also sell duck and chicken eggs, occasionally duck fat, Delaware chickens, and heirloom seeds. And they raise Great Pyranees dogs, too!
Farmers Rachel and Evan are both fierce, eloquent advocates of farming and conservation, two of the best examples of the young farmer movement I’ve seen. I met them a couple of years ago, before their landlord raised the rent and effectively made them leave our area, and they supply restaurants all along the Willamette Valley with their products. They really want to keep their Eugene ties, so please do let them know if you’re interested in a Eugene delivery, and they should be able to work something out. You must check out their blog at the very least, or visit their gorgeous new farm in Beavercreek. They are offering farm tours on September 23 and 30. Let them know you’re coming!
Hank’s cookbook should be out some time next year with Ten Speed Press. Anyone who’s a fan of his previous cookbook, Hunt Gather Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, knows we’re in for a treat. Stay tuned and good luck, Hank!