Duck is a little bit foreign to many people this side of the Atlantic. I believe this unfamiliarity, paired with the misconception that duck is difficult to deal with—too fatty or too extravagant—leads many people to shy away from an excellent, and delicious, protein alternative. Instead, we savor it only on special occasions when a professional chef prepares it for us.
Yes, duck does have a reputation for being somewhat luxurious, and it’s still not something I prepare on a weekly basis. But it really doesn’t have to come with pretentiousness. One of my favorite ways to prepare it is on the grill, where most of the preconceived notions about duck fly out the window. I find that any time meat is charred over fire, we’re transported away from the elegant French restaurant or trendy cocktail bar and become connected with our more primal instincts. Plus, things threaded on skewers are fun, and casual, and acceptable to eat with your hands. And grilling the duck always seems to achieve that perfect crispy skin crackling, too. As an additional perk, by cooking on the grill you won’t have to worry anymore about your smoke alarm going off as you attempt to sear the duck skin to that perfect golden-brown crispness on your stovetop. But do beware, flare-ups can, and will, occur on the grill, so watch the skewers carefully, and move them around as they cook to avoid the flare-ups as much as possible.
It is common practice for duck to be served with some sort of sweet or acidic component, to cut through the richness. Rather than using fruit, which is probably the most familiar, I often choose to serve it with a quickly sautéed red cabbage, spiked with apple cider vinegar* and just a tiny touch of honey (optional), for a sweet and sour effect. Chock full of vitamins and minerals, this pretty side dish is a delicious and healthy complement to the succulent, crispy duck morsels.
4 duck breasts, about 6–8 ounces each, cut into 1½-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
4–8 bamboo skewers
2 tablespoons butter or duck fat
1 small onion, sliced
1 small red cabbage, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1–2 tablespoons honey, or to your taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. For the skewers, season cubed duck liberally with salt and pepper. Thread duck pieces onto skewers, making sure the skin is exposed so the fat renders out and gets crispy. Preheat the grill to high. Grill skewers, keeping a good eye on them and moving them around when flare-ups occur. Cook until browned and crispy on all sides, but still pink inside, about 10–12 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving, so the juices settle.
2. For the cabbage, melt butter or fat in a large, shallow pan. Add onions, and cook until translucent. Add cabbage, thyme, mustard seeds, and a nice dose of salt and pepper. Saute cabbage until it begins to wilt. Add cider vinegar and a drizzle of honey. Braise cabbage in the vinegar until tender but still slightly crisp. Taste and adjust levels of sweet, sour, and salty to your taste.
*Fun Fact: Besides adding flavor and nutrition to the vegetables, the vinegar also plays an important role in transforming the cabbage into a brilliant fuchsia color. Red cabbage contains a pigment in a family called anthocyanins, which are very susceptible to change with fluctuating pH levels. The acid in the cabbage keeps the raw cabbage bright purple, but when heated this acid evaporates and the resulting cabbage can turn blue. The added vinegar restores, even enhances, this pH level. In fact, red cabbage is so sensitive to pH that the color of the vegetable itself is different depending on the pH levels of the soil it is grown in.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
·chemical- and hormone-free meat
·pastured-raised, organic eggs
·whole, unrefined grains
·virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
·whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
·pure, clean, spring water
·raw and/or cultured milk and cream products