Who will win the Super Bowl XLIX? I say Go, Ducks! No, that’s not being facetious; I’m a huge fan of the Super Bowl… parties, that is. Any opportunity to make and eat a lot of food with a lot of people is my kind of game. It doesn’t matter who plays, who wins, or who cries the loudest. But it does matter that the food is good, and plentiful. So this year I’m bringing the tacos, with a delectable duck filling.
While duck is a waterfowl that certainly shares more similarities with a seahawk than a New England colonial, that’s not the reason why I chose this poultry to put in a taco. It’s because I had a whole duck that I plan to enjoy every last part of fully. I can’t recommend enough buying a whole duck (ditto for a whole chicken), because you’ll have so many delicious meals to make with it–and it’s more economical, too. With a whole duck, simply remove the breasts and sear them skin side-down one night, until golden brown on the bottom and medium-rare, like a juicy steak. It’s better than a steak, actually.
Then, remove the legs and wings, and you could either confit them in true French fashion (by letting sit in salt and herbs overnight and slowly roasting them in a pool of fat). Or you could braise them as I did with the rest of the picked-apart carcass. Yes, this taco filling recipe was made from just the scraps of meat from the back and bones that were left after the breasts, legs, thighs, and wings were removed. Even the extra pieces of skin can be cut to squares and slowly roasted to become duck skin cracklins. (They’re great for placing on your tacos as crunchy toppings, too.)
Another benefit of working with duck is that you really need little to build a bold flavor. Duck has plenty of that alone. My whole duck was fresh from Hudson Valley Duck farm, which comes to the Greenmarkets in NYC throughout the week, and the package included the bird’s neck. The neck really gave me more meat to shred up for these tacos, and it’s the reason why I thought the duck could do a second encore after its seared breasts and confited legs and wings were finished. However, if you’re looking to make braised duck and don’t wish to have seared breasts at some other point, I’d recommend just getting whole leg and thigh portions for this recipe. Or, get a whole duck and braise just the legs, wings and back, but never the breast. That would be a travesty to waste juicy duck breasts in a braise like this.
To complement that rich, meaty, somewhat musty flavor of duck braised in beer and onions, I looked to a bright and refreshing sauce to drizzle atop the taco filling. A juice of fresh cilantro, shallots and garlic sounded about right–especially splashed with tart red wine vinegar to pull it all together as a sauce. You can add a few chops of fresh jalapeno to this mixture before blending for some bite, or leave it on the side, as an optional slice. No matter what taco filling you choose, this bright green drizzle makes an impressive, and very easy, garnish that packs way more punch than a sprig of the herb. And isn’t Superbowl food all about aggressive, punchy flavor? From Buffalo wings (my Superbowl party hosts pledged to make plenty of wings already) to oniony dips, you want to make maximum impact with a compact bite. That’s just good snack food, in my opinion.
After all, we wouldn’t want to deflate the expectations of guests, now would we?
Beer-Braised Duck Tacos with Cilantro Sauce
(makes about 12 tacos, or 6-8 servings)
about 2 lbs bone-in duck legs, wings and/or backs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots (or 1/2 medium-sized onion, chopped)
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups pale ale
12-16 fresh corn tortillas
sliced fresh radishes for garnish (optional)
sliced jalapeno for garnish (optional)
for the cilantro sauce
1 bunch fresh cilantro, both stems and leaves coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
To braise the duck, heat the 1 Tb oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add the duck and brown on one side, about 3-4 minutes, before turning and browning the opposite side, another 3-4 minutes. Add the onions and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes or until the onions are just turning translucent. Add the beer and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer covered for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside the duck pieces from the broth. Let cool until cool enough to handle. Pick the duck meat from the bone and add to the reserved broth. Bring to a boil and reduce the liquid, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to at least half and the mixture resembles a saucy braised meat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, combine the chopped cilantro, garlic, shallot, water and vinegar in a blender or food processor, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary until mixture resembles a thick paste. Drizzle in the olive oil while blending. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the tacos, heat the tortillas and place two stacked on a serving dish. Place a scoop of the duck filling inside and top with a drizzle of the cilantro sauce. Top with the optional radishes and jalapenos and serve immediately.
for 6-8 servings
about 2 lbs duck (from whole ducks at $9/lb): $6.00
2 shallots or 1/2 onion: $0.50
4 cups beer: $2.00
3-5 Tb olive oil: $0.50
1 bunch cilantro: $2.00
2 shallots: $1.00
4 cloves garlic: $0.25
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar: $0.25
12-16 fresh corn tortillas: $2.00
Six brownie points: Tacos can have a pretty well-balanced packages of nutrition — corn tortilla, protein, herbs and veggies — it depends on how you make ’em. You’ll probably be sated with just a small dab of the duck. The sauce packs a lot of flavor as well as Vitamin K from all the fresh cilantro, and there’s a bit of vinegar to help you digest it all, too.
Six maple leaves: Fresh duck from Hudson Valley is always in season around here, thankfully, but the corn tortillas were imported and those springlike herbs didn’t come from this winter soil.