Thursday, 13th October 2011
It is not often that we get to see a whole duck butchered, the traditional French way. But I took the following notes watching a Gascon farmer, Andre Rodary. The duck was mature, fattened on a small farm to produce foie gras.
To waste any part of the precious, well fattened Gascony ducks would be a sin. Every piece of meat, skin, fat and offal must be used. Even the gessier - the muscle inside a duck’s stomach used in the absence of teeth to crush their food - will be sliced, sautéed, and served with fresh green leaves dressed with walnut oil.
Andre Rodary primarily grows plums, but also rears ducks and chickens on his farm near Agen. His ducks are a cross between a Barbary and Running duck, enormous creatures whose fully grown bodies measure up to eighteen inches long. When force fed with maize their livers can weigh up to 400g (14 oz). This is the precious foie gras, served in a hundred ways all over the region, and beyond.
After slaughter the foie would usually be cut from the duck first, to protect it from bruising. In a rare masterclass, however, Rodary showed me the traditional way - butchering the whole duck in order to make the most of both the meat and liver.
How to cut the duck
Ducks are always cut when chilled; the fat will be firm and ‘follow’ each piece as it is sectioned.
- The head is cut, leaving the entire neck still attached to the duck and each foot cut at the first and closest joint.
- A line is cut along the breast bone from one end to the neck – then outwards in a curve to mark out the breast – the magret.
- The magret is filleted away from the bone but left attached to the skin or manteau.
- A small knife is used to cut deep towards the wing joint, cutting through to separate the two bones. The same is done to the leg joints, detaching them from the carcass, but not yet removing them. A cut is then made all around the base of the neck.
- The skin is peeled away from the surface of the liver area with the help of a filleting knife.
- Using the same knife, all the meat and fat is filleted away from the body carcass – the legs (cuisses) and magret. The manteau that comes away will have everything attached. There will be some strips of meat attached to the back of the carcass, these are the aiguillettes and will be cut away later.
- The legs are cut away from the manteau, and trimmed, ready for salting – see below. The wings are cut and trimmed. The magret are trimmed into tidy oval shapes. The trimmed fat is kept to one side.
- The foie is still attached to the carcass. A finger is run around the thinnest edge of the breast bones, snapping them - the foie can then be easily lifted out. The foie is washed in a bowl of cold water.
- The skin is pulled away from the neck to make a casing for stuffing.
- The carcass is split from the neck end, then sectioned again into strips of rib bones. The meat attached to them, the aiguillettes, can now be easily cut away in strips.
- The guts are finally removed – the heart set to one side and the gessier muscle removed from the stomach area – this can be very messy, as there will still be food in the stomach.
Using every part of a duck
Magret (the breast) – Fry or roast then cut into thin slices. The meat should be pink; smoke in a hot smoker (www.nisbets.co.uk) or eat raw as tartare or carpaccio
Wings – These are mainly fat and can be rendered for making confit
Cuisses (the legs) – Salt for 6 hours then poach in rendered fat from wings to make confit
The neck – Use as a casing for a forcemeat stuffing made from duck and pork. The foie gras is sometimes cooked inside the neck casing.
The aiguillettes – Tender boneless meat that can be sautéed fresh
The parsons nose – Chop and add to pâté
The foie (liver) – A freshly trimmed liver is considered a great delicacy. Slice and sauté on a griddle. Part cook whole in a sealed pot or bag inside in a bath of simmering water - this is mi-cuit, which has a good fresh taste but will not keep out of the fridge unlike the fully cooked liver. Make a smooth terrine with armagnac, studded with black melanosporum truffles from Périgord.
The gessier – Salt for 2 hours then poach in fat as for confit
The heart – Grill whole, then slice
The fat – Any fat can be rendered down over a very low heat to for a supply of cooking fat that makes the crispest roast potatoes. Small trimmings can be fried until crisp – just as pork scratchings.
Author: Rose Prince