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Volume 38 Issue 1, - April 10 - 23, 2008
now in our 38th season

Spring is Sprung

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

I’m a bit frazzled this year as far as the seasons go.  Winter was cold and had wintery moments, but on the whole was not terribly winter-like.  Spring is here, and I’m still waiting for an Easter that has already passed.  This is wreaking havoc with my taste buds.  There are certain seasonal landmarks that are cues for my appetite.  In the fall, the first scent of a wood fire brings thoughts of  savory roasts and hearty stews.  Conversely, that particular Easter kind of chill that I connect to Sunrise Service at Mill Hill (and a new, spring coat and gloves, thank you) send me in search of roasted chicken or duck, peppery arugula or baby spinach and jelly beans, though not necessarily together and not necessarily in that order.

I understand and somewhat accept the early Easter date this year. (As though I have any say in the matter!)  And while I pride myself on being flexible, it is pure bunk.  I am inflexible when it comes to certain foods at certain times of the year.  I do, however, practice what I preach when I advise folks to act “as if.”  So, since there is not a darn thing that I can do about an early Easter, I will act as if it’s still just around the corner instead of back around the bend.  Yes, I can and do talk myself into just about anything.

With spring now in evidence by the deepening green of the fields and the scratching of rakes in flower beds, I look for recipes and meals that are less involved than a stew or a complicated stuffed something or other, which for me is an excuse for adding cheese to anything.  Also, after a winter spent largely in front of a computer screen, my backside would benefit from both lighter fare and from time in my gardens.  That said, I still want something that feeds all of my senses.  After a few hours in my yard, opening the door to the incredible smell of roasted duck is satisfying itself.  Serve the gorgeous, crispy duck with a salad of Arugula or baby spinach to balance the richness of the duck and give you a taste of spring.  This may not fit the description of “lighter fare,” but it fits the bill for delicious.

Duck need not be intimidating, though it’s not something that a new cook may try without a bit of therapy and a good support group.  They’re like chickens, only not. They roast like a chicken, but not quite. And though scrumptious, they are a rich treat and won’t necessarily become part of your weekly menu.  Once or twice a spring, however, can be just the trick to snap you out of early Easter crankiness (I am, of course, speaking about myself), and give you that spring focus.

Duck is readily available at grocery stores now.  Look for a three- to four-pound whole duck.  As with all poultry, start by giving it a good rinse in cold running water, and pat it dry.

With chickens, a drizzle of olive oil helps to crisp and brown the skin. With duck there’s no need for an olive oil drizzle.  They come equipped with their own internal drizzle:  duck fat—liquid gold.  One of my all time favorite staples is duck fat.  When Scott, the chef de cuisine at the Farm, roasts duck, he saves the fat for me.  I have several containers of duck fat in my freezer, and I often think of cooking with it.  I know that this is not likely, but simply  having duck fat on hand makes me happy.  I love cooking with duck fat!  Potato pancakes cooked in duck fat are far superior to anything else, and a teaspoon or two when browning just about anything adds a depth of flavor that can really enhance your dish.

Back to roasting your duck...

  • First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. 
  • Put your duck into a heavy roasting pan. 
  • Season inside and out with salt and pepper. 
  • Roast it for fifteen minutes at 400, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and walk away for about an hour and a half. 

Yep, it’s that simple. By the time you’ve raked the winter layer of pine needles away from your garden, your duck will be crispy, tender, and succulent.  Like all roasted meats, let it rest for ten or fifteen minutes before you  start to carve it.  This allows time for all of the juices to be redistributed, making the whole bird moist and delicious.

Sweet potatoes are a great foil for duck.  The sweetness of the sweet potatoes really enhances the richness of the duck meat.  Simply scrub your sweet potatoes, and tuck them into the oven for the last hour of roasting.

Add a salad of fresh and spicy arugula or sweet baby spinach to really round out the flavors and textures of your dinner.

For your salad, layer the arugula or spinach with thinly sliced red onions, slices of fresh oranges or grapefruit, and lightly toasted walnuts.  Drizzle liberally with a good quality, extra virgin olive oil, a bit of balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  

As for leftovers:  duck is very versatile and an easy and extravagant way to serve the leftovers is on a pizza.  I am grateful to Something Natural for their dough, which is available in the grocery stores.  It seems that when my daughter moved south so did my kitchen-aid, so a store-bought dough is just the thing.

  • When I work with a store-bought dough, I portion it out to about 4-ounce pieces.  Working on a lightly floured surface, I round the dough up into balls, then let it rest for about an hour.  If you try to roll it out when it’s not rested and ready, it will tighten up and flat out refuse to cooperate.  I’m sure we can all relate.
  • While your dough is resting, ready the rest of your ingredients.  Preheat a heavy-bottomed saute pan.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil and one finely sliced onion.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often until caramelized. Add your leftover duck, which will pull apart quite easily.  Set aside to cool
  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. 
  • When your dough is ready to roll out, lightly flour a work surface.  With your fingers, start to press out the dough.  Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll your dough from the center out.
  • Spread your caramelized onions across the dough and top with your pulled duck meat.  Slip the pizza into the oven for about twelve minutes, until the dough is browned and baked through.
  • When you remove your pizza from the oven, top it with fresh arugula, and drizzle it with olive oil.  Scrape a bit of a good, dry, hard cheese such as a parmesan or a Grana Padano.  Serve and savor!

Now, time to plan that Easter dinner.

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