An introduction to duck by way of a labor-intensive process
Every household in our barrio had pet ducks freely roaming around eating whatever they found edible but without damaging vegetable gardens. They were raised not for meat but for their eggs, which were preferred over chicken eggs, especially for omelets and bibingka (rice cake).
One duck can lay 200 eggs before slowing down, at which point the layer is marked for the cooking pot. In the old days the only recipes for duck were adobo and caldereta. Then somebody invented fried itik, which is now sold almost everywhere. Fried itik is an ingenious but labor-intensive way to use duck layers, which have been culled after being past their prime.
Labor of love
From butchering the duck to presenting it on a plate takes many hours, sometimes overnight. Dressing the carcass involves the use of tweezers to pluck pin feathers and carefully setting aside large amounts of duck fat from the body cavity.
The seasoned duck will simmer in its own fat for hours with ginger, onions, garlic, black pepper, fresh pineapple, and many other herbs. When tender, the ducks are carefully laid out on racks to dry before displaying at a market stall or a restaurant.
The neck, webbed feet, wing tips, liver, gizzard, and innards are cooked and sold separately as caldereta or adobo and sold mainly as pulutan. Duck meat, somehow, did not become a regular item on Filipino family menus until fried itik came along.
From butchering the duck to presenting it on a plate, it takes many hours, sometimes overnight.
Thirty-three years ago I introduced duck with peaches as a main course during the regular Wednesday press conference of the Defense Press Corps. The dish had duck confit garnished with peach slices.
It was an instant success and soon, all my friends heard about it and expected Duck with Peaches at the regular Thursday lunch at Myther And Friends, an exclusive gathering of veteran journalists and newsmakers. They all wanted to know my secret recipe, which remained a secret until now: quartered fried itik with canned peaches!
The layers are heavy with duck fat, a very precious imported commodity (₱695 for 320 grams). Easily the most flavorful fat for cooking, it is used to cook anything from simple to fancy dishes, It has a rich silky smooth texture and is a good source of unsaturated fatty acids. It is very much in vogue among high-end chefs who use it to make expensive gourmet french fries and other dishes such as real duck confit and cassoulet. In Manila, imported duck fat is offered online by importers and gourmet ingredients purveyors.
To acquire duck fat, I buy culled layers from duck raisers or fried itik makers. After rendering the fat over medium heat, the fat can be stored in the freezer where it keeps for many months.
Unlike free range duck, layers are pampered and well-fed, often have fat livers, which make good pate. When available, the best choices are livers that are large and pale, indicating plumpness. They can be simply pan-fried or mixed with herbs in a pate container and baked.