Arroz con Pato
Duck with Cilantro Rice
Duck is a fowl that has been appreciated since ancient times, but has only been domesticated comparatively recently. Egyptians loved duck, but why domesticate birds that throng the rush-lined shores of every river? And almost everyone everywhere ate duck, from ancient Rome to the Aztec Empire to imperial China—though of course not everyone was eating the same breeds. Duck was hugely popular in medieval and Renaissance Europe, but appears to have still been wild, even at that late date. It seems possible that ducks had been domesticated in England by the time of Elizabeth I's reign. But even then, wild ducks were still popular in areas where they were available.
And why domesticate ducks in the New World? When Charles Dickens visited the U.S. in the 1800s, he wrote of wide streams blackened by flocks of wild ducks. These would have been canvasback ducks, the tastiest of America's indigenous breeds. Canvasbacks were a colonial staple and remained an essential part of East Coast cuisine for a few hundred years. Also, for a long time, no game birds were more highly prized in Europe than American canvasbacks.
Best guess for the first to domesticate ducks is the Chinese, because they were the first to incubate duck eggs artificially. And despite the popularity at one time of the canvasback, it is a Chinese duck breed that is most widely consumed in America today. In 1873, a Yankee Clipper pulled into Long Island carrying nine Peking ducks taken aboard in China. It is from these nine that all the millions of Peking ducks in the U.S. today are descended. The Peking duck (also sometimes rendered Pekin) is sturdy, tender, tasty, juicy, and has relatively light flesh (ducks have only dark meat). And Long Island is still one of the premier producer of ducks in the U.S., along with North Carolina and Indiana.
Dozens of duck species exist, and many are worth eating. Several countries have developed their own fair fowls, such as France's Rouen duck, most commonly consumed as pressed duck, or England's gadwall. Mallards and pintails have international followings. Fortunately, speedy transport has rendered most duck species widely available, so you never know what might appear on a menu. However, if you're picking up a frozen bird at your local grocery store, it's a good bet it's Peking.
This recipe is from Peru. My introduction to Peruvian food was decades ago at a now long-gone restaurant on Main St. in Evanston. My favorite dish was filet mignon cooked in beer and cilantro. Since that time, I have discovered, both in my research and in other Peruvian restaurants, that beer and cilantro are a popular combination in cooking, and not just with beef. These flavors work wonderfully with duck. This is a relatively easy, straightforward recipe that has delightful results. Enjoy.
Arroz con Pato
(Duck with Cilantro Rice)
5- to 5½-pound duck, cut into 6 to 8 serving pieces
⅓ cup lemon juice
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
3 12-ounce bottles of beer
2 cups long grain white rice
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup cooked fresh green peas or thoroughly defrosted frozen peas.
Trim as much fat as possible off the duck. Mix the lemon juice, cumin, ½ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. black pepper, then use your fingers to brush each piece of duck with the mixture. Place the duck in a plate large enough to accommodate pieces in a single layer. Pour over any of the lemon juice that is left. Cover the plate with foil, and let it rest at room temperature for 3 hours or refrigerated for 6 hours, turning pieces once or twice during this time.
Remove the duck pieces from the marinade. Prick the duck's skin in a few places with a fork or knife tip. (This will permit fat beneath the skin to escape during browning.) Discard any remaining marinade.
In a large saucepan or casserole, heat the oil over high heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the duck and brown it well on all sides, turning frequently. Drain off and discard all but 2 Tbs. of oil/fat from the pan. Pour the beer over the duck, and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping any bits of brown from the bottom or sides of the pan into the liquid. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and let the duck simmer for 45 minutes, or until a leg shows no resistance when pierced with the tip of a knife. Transfer the duck to a heated plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Pour off the liquid from the saucepan, strain, and measure. You should have about 4 cups of liquid (see note below). Return the liquid to the pan. Bring the broth to a boil, stir in the rice, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer undisturbed for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the cooking liquid. Stir in the cilantro, peas, and remaining ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Arrange duck pieces on top of the rice, cover the pan, and return pan to low heat for a few minutes to heat duck through.
The beer you use should be a pale, golden or ale-type beer, not a dark beer, which will overpower the flavor of the duck.
If the amount of liquid/broth differs from this by more than ½ a cup, adjust the quantity of rice according to the directions on the package of whatever rice you're using. If you have well over 4 cups, you may also want to check to see if there is a lot of fat, and adjust the amount by skimming some of the fat off the broth.