Last Sunday we ate a duck for dinner, his name was 3.
I once had a duck named Lulu, 3’s mother. When her eggs hatched she promptly began killing her ducklings. I rescued 3 and his five brothers and sisters when their down was still wet and took over their mothering. It was wonderful, exhausting and heartbreaking to experience motherhood; it was as close as I am ever likely to come.
Poverty is the mother of invention, thus we have developed unusual methods of caring for animals in need. My little flock lived in our cooler, in the house with a heating pad until they were strong enough to go outside. It’s difficult to maintain small birds in the campo, there are many dangers, scorpion stings, and predators. Hawks, skunks, and chickens are brutal; the least sign of weakness inspires barbaric behavior in chickens. Twice I watched as hawks carried my babies away. I fell to the ground in tears, helpless. I gained a lot of respect for my hens that manage to bring even one chick to fruition under these conditions. Three’s original name was five, he was always the one on the outskirts, the one I could not find when I did a headcount, 1,2, 3… always ending with, where’s 5? As my flock dwindled his name changed until there were only 3.
After all of this care, you may be wondering how I could bring myself to eat 3. It was painful, but in relation to the flock, it was his purpose. We have a drake and not enough females to support another. He was superfluous, and though he was my favorite I could not allow myself to lose sight of why we have ducks. We raise them to eat. In our situation it requires fewer resources to raise a duck than a tomato, they use far less water, and we have so much land it’s not necessary to feed them. All of our poultry are free-range, and self-sufficient.
It is for me, the basis of my moral life to tell myself the truth about my actions. Meat is not something that comes in a styrofoam plate with no relationship to an animal, it’s easy and even desirable to forget this when our primary interaction with meat in a grocer’s case. In my experience raising animals, though I try not to anthropomorphize, they all have genuine lives, they like to play, they make eye contact and most like to be stroked. I make myself remember these things when I eat meat; I recognize the life that is nourishing me.
3 had a good life, a swift death and he served his purpose. He fed us six times, a total of twelve meals- I made two meals from his breast steaks, cassoulet with the confit of one leg and thigh, hash from the other. The liver I carefully seared in rendered duck fat, and served with a drizzle of red mole (the chocolate and chili are wonderful with duck liver), his carcass I used for stock and cooked lentils in it. We are still enjoying his rendered fat.
I cried when I butchered 3 and when I ate the first bite of this wonderful meal. Not tears of sorrow, or remorse, but honor.
Seared Duck Breast with Pink Grapefruit
1 duck breast, with or without skin rubbed with equal parts, sugar, salt, and ancho chili powder ( this will serve 2 people approx. a 4- oz. portion) we find that it is plenty
1 pd. dark greens, amaranth is my preference for this dish
1 grapefruit, imperial, reserve as much juice as possible, ½ cup ideally
1 clove sliced garlic
1 cup cooked black beans
Toasted sesame seeds
Ideally, at least four hours before cooking, rub the breast with the salt, chili, and sugar dry rub, refrigerate, bring up to room temp. before cooking.
Sauté garlic, add greens and beans when the garlic is fragrant, it’s handy if the greens are wet from washing, if not put in a bit of water cover and steam until tender, splash with soy sauce, stir and plate.
Raise the heat in the pan and add more oil, just before it smokes add the meat, sear approx. 3 mins. per side for med-rare, (if you have kept the skin start skin side down and add 1-2 min. until its crunchy), remove and rest the meat for five mins, add the grapefruit juice to the hot pan scraping up the crunchy bits, you may need additional juice or you can add white wine, reduce to a thin sauce, you may want to add a touch more oil if needed to emulsify, depending on whether you retain the skin
Thinly slice the breast, plate with greens, pour on sauce, and finish with sesame seeds
Did this post make you uncomfortable? Have you eaten an animal you cared for? I welcome your comments.