Step 0: Buy a duck. (Saturday afternoon)
My friend Alisa sent me a link for a soup recipe, and I felt compelled to make it. The soup called for duck stock, whose procedure was briefly described in the article. I announced to Kristin that I was going to make the soup, including the stock, so she took me to a shop in Charlottenburg where I could easily buy a whole duck. I impulse bought some chicken wings while I was there but held myself back from the trays of glistening offal.
Step 1: Debone the duck. (8am)
I removed the legs and breasts, keeping the skin on the breast. I unhinged the joints in the legs, and carved out the bones and sinew. Deboning duck, especially the legs, is harder than deboning a chicken. The skin is thicker, almost leathery. The tendons are stronger, thinner and more plentiful. I’ll be using the mangled leg meat in the soup, which calls for thinly sliced meat.
I’ve known how to debone a chicken for years. I learned the basics from my mother who was, literally, a pro. She had spent time working in a Campbell Soup chicken processing plant. They put her at the end of the conveyor, where she could catch the mistakes of slower, sloppy people further up the line. I assume she learned to cut chickens when she lived on a farm. There, she’d also been assigned the chore of slaughtering and defeathering chickens . My mom, born a city kid, can orchestrate the slaughter of few dozen birds in a day. I’m surprised she hasn’t set up coops in the back of their yard.
My brother worked at the same plant, years later, as an industrial janitor. He worked at night, cleaning all the equipment overnight between the afternoon and day shifts. Rule was, as long as the place was properly cleaned, they could leave after 6 hours and be paid for 8. But the cleaning job took less time, which meant the cleaners could sit around for a while playing cards and smoking weed.
Step 2: Roast the carcass. 450F oven, 45 minutes. (9am)
I reserved some of the skin and fat to render, since the soup calls for rendered duck fat. Along with the neck, heart and gizzards, which I roasted along with the bones and wings, the duck also came with its liver. Thinking ahead to the day and the week, I saw no better time to eat the single liver than that moment. I seasoned the little thing with salt and pepper, and fried it in olive oil and salted butter. I enjoyed it, cooked medium with just a bit of pink in the middle, with a cup of coffee. By the end of my breakfast, the smell of the bones roasting had started to spread through the apartment.
Step 3: Make stock. (10am)
Cover the bones with 3L of water, and toss in 2 bird chilis* (cut open), a nob of ginger (roughly chopped), two cloves of garlic (skin on, smashed open), two large scallots (peeled, cut in half), half the white of a leek (intact).
I wanted an Asian-flavoured stock, hence the choice of seasoning. Using an appropriately flavoured stock for an Asian soup makes all the difference in the world.
As I transferred the carcass into the stock pot, I nibbled a little on the crispy fleshy bits. I ate half the heart. I pierced the taut fat around a gizzard to get the flavour on my tongue. I scraped the browned bits off the roasting pan into the pot and licked my fingers after. I suspect this behaviour would be frowned upon in a professional kitchen, but luckily I’m not a professional.
Step 4: Render fat. (10:30)
My friend Adam bought me the book Fat a couple years ago as a hostess gift. I referred to it for instructions. I had reserved the skin and fat from the legs and the trimmings from the breast. In total, my collection measured half a cup. I put it in my smallest pot, on my smallest burner, on the lowest setting. The result is more than enough for the soup recipe, plus a bit extra to have around.
Step 5: Clean the kitchen, simmer the stock.
The labour will lead to a bowl of soup later in the day, or perhaps tomorrow. But until then, I have time to do laundry, read and perhaps make more coffee. And it’s not yet noon.
* Note: I tasted the stock about half way through simmering, and decided to take the chilis out. The soup might turn out spicier than I intended.