Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Dinner Disaster

I like to experiment in the kitchen. Trying new ingredients and new techniques keeps the daily grind of meal preparation fresh. And, once and awhile, a new discovery will work it's way into my repertoire of regularly prepared meals.

This Christmas, we decided to do something different. We have a longstanding family tradition of Christmas Eve dinner at Lawry's, which is famous for its hand-carved prime rib. So, beef is usually not on the menu on Christmas day. No one wanted ham, turkey is kind of boring. My husband suggested duck. Beside the fact that he loves duck, he recalled a particularly delicious specimen that we enjoyed at our country house last fall. So, we procured two frozen ducks at our local grocer and began to plan.

One of the challenges to cooking duck at home is the prodigious amount of fat on the bird. On more than on occasion, we have nearly been smoked out of the kitchen when attempting to roast duck in the oven. So, I looked for a different preparation method. Alton Brown's Mighty Duck recipe looked promising. He suggests brining the bird (always a good idea), and then steaming the quartered pieces until most of the fat has rendered off. The duck is then cooked in a hot oven on a preheated "NASA hot" skillet, which crisps the skin and finishes the meat.

My sous chef/husband and I followed the recipe carefully, excited at the prospect of tender, moist duck meat combined with crispy, crackling skin. The result? Abject failure. The meat was too salty and either tough (legs and thighs) or undercooked (breast) and the skin was scorched, unpleasant, and unevenly browned.

A Christmas dinner disaster? Heavens, no! It was loads of fun to try a new method and to work with a meat that rarely graces my kitchen. The whole experiment got everyone into the kitchen, poking and prodding and prognosticating on what looked good and how long to leave that piece in the pan and what might work better next time.

I look forward to more failures in the kitchen, and more good times cooking and sharing meals with people I love.