REBECCA PENOVICH is a freelance pr professional who writes about food and entertaining at Corks & Cake (www.corksandcake.com). When she’s not in her vintage kitchen, she works with television and film clients (Chefs A’Field, National Geographic Entertainment) to match them with brands and promote their partnerships
I love it when a title of a book just grabs you by throat. If it makes me laugh as well, then it is definitely worth a peruse. How To Cook His Goose (and other Wild Games) by Karen Green and Betty Black (Winchester Press, 1973) fits the bill. The book was in my mother-in-law’s collection until she passed it down to me. My husband’s father was an avid duck and goose hunter on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for many years and I’m sure she had more than her share of wild game land on her kitchen counter to cook.
The authors address a non-hunting home cook’s conundrum right away: “For some reason or other, the most confident cook can become apprehensive and uncertain when confronted with a brace of partridge.”
That described my feeling exactly as I prepared to cook the first duck of my life.
Many people adore duck as a delicacy and that would be what they would order on a night out in a restaurant. Many people also cook duck regularly at home as part of their repertoire of cuisine. But that would not be me.
Of the 18 recipes for duck in How To Cook His Goose, Duck Breasts Adobo (Phillipine Style) caught my eye. For a retro recipe, it sounded very au courant and I knew my friend who guided me through her extended Filipino family’s recipe for chicken adobo would be at the ready to consult.
But what an adventure it turned out to be.
Let’s take a look at the vintage recipe.
- 6 whole duck breasts (on bone)
- 2 teaspoons vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 onion, cut into chunks
- 3 garlic cloves, mashed
- 1/4 cup cooking oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cup soy sauce
Remove the skin and cut the breasts in half (leave on bone).
Cut each half into half again; this will give you twenty-four quarters. Place the duck pieces in a pot. Add water–slightly less to cover. Bring to a boil and continue boiling until tender. Add the vinegar, pepper, onion and garlic. Cover the pot and continue cooking over high heat until the liquid is reduced to approximately 1/2 cup. Add the oil and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Combine the lemon juice and soy sauce add them to the duck pieces. Continue cooking for 10 minutes. Serve with hot white rice.
Sounded similar to the adobo recipe I had in my arsenal (which I knew worked deliciously with chicken thighs and drumsticks.) What I didn’t know (until I started shopping) was that you can’t find commercial duck breasts on the bone. I went to D’Artagnan, the premiere wild game purveyor online. They had fabulous Magret, Muscovy, and Pekin breasts, boneless. I went to Maple Leaf Farms online (another great source for duck.) Breasts without bone. I called their customer service and she explained that all their duck breasts were de-boned because people don’t want to pay for bone. Okay that makes sense. But the adobo recipe necessitates that meat be on the bone since it is simmered in vinegar and soy sauce for quite a long time. Boneless breasts would just dry out and absorb too much vinegar; the bones add needed viscosity and marrow to the sauce.
Off I went to the large Asian supermarket in our suburb. They had every kind of wild game imaginable: duck, goose, rabbit, cornish hen. And every kind of part imaginable: feet, heads, innards, whole. But no duck breasts on the bone except for those on the whole frozen duck.
By now this recipe was about to cook MY goose. I decided to buy a whole frozen duck and break it down myself. I also bought some fresh duck leg quarters on the bone. The vintage recipe was out the window because no way, no how would I be procuring six whole duck breasts and cutting them up into 24 pieces.
Sorry Ms. Green and Ms. Black from 1976, I don’t have a hunting husband who was going to drop a brace of wild duck on my kitchen counter. (By the way, a “brace of birds” is a pair. So my husband would need to bring me three braces of Maryland waterfowl which for all I knew was beyond the bag limit of a hunting license!)
Somewhat daunted but now fully committed, I plunged ahead with my sharpest knife.
With this much effort expended I knew I was going with my friend’s proven recipe for adobo, known to be delicious and widely loved by her family and mine.
Lee Ojascastro’s Recipe for Adobo (adapted for duck)
- 4 duck breasts and 4 duck legs (skin on and bone in)
- 1 cup Pearl River Bridge soy sauce
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 yellow onion, quartered
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 4 cloves of garlic (smashed)
- 5 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Combine soy sauce, vinegar, water, onion, garlic, brown sugar, and black pepper in Dutch oven or large stockpot. Submerge duck breasts and legs and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes until duck is tender. Remove breasts and legs and broil on high for 3-4 minutes on each side until crispy.
NOTE: I wanted to capture the duck fat in the sauce so I took out the meat, refrigerated the liquid overnight and spooned off the duck fat in the morning. Then I put the de-fatted sauce back on the burner, thickened it with cornstarch slurry and THEN broiled the breasts and legs, spooning the sauce over. The broiling step will also render more fat from the duck so be sure to capture that as well!
The verdict: delicious.
Traditionally, adobo is served in Filipino households with steamed white rice.
I made a roasted turnip and carrot hash to accompany the duck along with a wild rice blend.
Roasted Turnip and Carrot Hash
- 4 medium turnips, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces
- 6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- OPTIONAL: 2 tablespoons of the adobo sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, toss the turnips and carrots in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss some more. Place root vegetables in single layer in large casserole dish, cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes until tender. Uncover and let cool slightly. Heat cast iron skillet with 2 T. olive oil and when hot, toss the root vegetables in the hot oil, tossing to brown them on all sides. OPTIONAL: Season with 2 T. of the adobo sauce (or more to taste) and toss while hot in the pan. Serve with duck breasts and legs and more adobo sauce on the side.
How To Cook His Goose (and Other Wild Games): An informative and delightful guide to preparing and cooking game birds, game fish, rabbit and venison
by Karen Green and Betty Black
illustrations by William Green
Winchester Press, New York, 1973, 1976.