After spending the day learning how duck feed was made, seeing how the birds are grown and processed, and meeting the people along the way that treat the animals with such respect (see part 1 in the Duck University series), it was time to enjoy the different ways duck can be prepared.
Students at Duck University were fortunate enough to be served a Tasting Flight of Maple Leaf Farms Duck by Dale Miller, one of America’s only 68 Certified Master Chefs.
I have not eaten a lot of duck. My first introduction to it was a crispy duck salad at a Thai restaurant near the Pentagon that I still crave to this day. I’ve also enjoyed Peking duck in China, and I roasted a whole bird for the first time last Christmas. I never thought of duck as an everyday food, until now.
“As a chef in this day and age, it’s hard to find a product you can trust 100 percent,” said Master Chef Miller. “I’ve trusted Maple Leaf Farms Duck for 25 years. It’s all I’ve ever used, and I always have people say it’s the best duck they’ve ever had.”
At Maple Leaf Farms World Headquarters, the evening began with round of appetizers, including a spoonful of flavorful Bolognese. It was prepared with ground duck, but if you hadn’t told me, I would have thought I was eating beef.
Starter: Not Your Average Cold Duck
After the wine was poured, we sat around the tables just in time to be presented the starter, “Not Your Average Cold Duck.” It was an artful plate of seared duck Carpaccio with horseradish aioli, crispy capers and Reggiano Parmesan Shards.
This was my favorite dish of the night. The duck was sliced thin like prosciutto and its mild flavor was complemented with the burst of horseradish and nutty cheese. I practically licked my plate.
Bread: Duck Fat Popover
For the bread course, servers delivered huge, hollow popovers that were brushed with duck fat and topped with gruyere. Duck fat is considered “liquid gold” by many chefs.
Soup: Duck and Cover
Along with the bread was a “Duck and Cover” soup. The duo of roasted eggplant and tomato bisque was centered with a timbale of duck confit and topped with frizzled leeks.
Master Chef described the confit, which was prepared from the duck legs, as unctuous. The duck fat used to prepare the confit blended nicely with the bright soups.
Speaking of bright, the salad course was, as the Master Chef described, “an explosion of summer to make up for winter.” Although winter in Vegas was glorious, Northern Indiana, where we were dining, was hit hard.
The dish was called “When Smoke Gets in Your Duck.” The peppery arugula was topped with smoked duck, compressed watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, gorgonzola and basil pesto. Then, Master Chef walked around the room and spritzed Minus 8 balsamic vinegar onto each of our salads. I’m not a fan of watermelon, but the way he vacuum sealed it intensified the sugars and altered the texture, so I enjoyed every bite.
I was so impressed with the various ways Master Chef was preparing the duck. Each dish had a unique flavor and was not repetitive. The main course, “Ramped up Duck,” included a hearty serving of duck breast grilled medium-rare with ramp chermoula. He said it was inspired by a meal in the garden. The duck was served alongside grilled corn cut off the cob, sautéed shallots, lime-cilantro-feta and tomato jam.
The final flight in the duck tasting menu was “Duck in a Jar,” a warm peach and blackberry crisp topped with almond duck bacon streusel and vanilla gelato. I ate every bite of this sweet, salty crunchy delight.
It was a long, educational day at Duck University. I had learned to appreciate the bird and marvel in the way Master Chef prepared it. Next, it was time to learn how to prepare this beautiful protein at home.