Having eaten a low-sugar diet for four or five years now, the ol' tastebuds have changed such that things others consider to taste 'normal' taste, to me, unbelieveably sweet. Like Havarti cheese. Or low-fat milk. or 85% chocolate. Probably my cooking states unbelieveably bland and/or spicy and/or something to other people. Who knows. But one of my favourite meats (mm. meat. it's all good) is duck. there are several excellent reasons for this. [note: my sole reader who does not eat duck for reasons that they are lovely cute creatures and it is cruel might want to stop reading here. also my other two readers who are vegetarian. so, the one carnivorous friend that's left, read on.]
1. Duck is fatty. Fat is good. It makes meat taste good and it helps with cooking the meat and did I mention it's lovely?
2. Because of #1, duck meat is usually quite moist and juicy.
3. If you like dark meat on a turkey, you love duck. It all has that taste of dense but juicy dark meat. And the ducks aren't (I don't think?) perversely fattened to produce large breasts for the (again perverse) taste for breast meat that the North American public seems to crave.
We like our birds breast-heavy with thin legs. Hm. What else fits that description? Coincidence? But I digress.
4. Duck is often used in fabulous Chinese cooking--and I'm not talking about the drive-up hole-in-the-wall university take-away Chinese that we all know and love for entirely other reasons having to do with fried, breaded goodness.
Duck is often on the menu here in the UK at 'normal' 'British' restaurants of the post-1980s variety (that is, the food is quite good and well-prepared). We went to one such restaurant which is excellent where the duck leg entree is served with this amazing lentil/dal-like sauce. It goes perfectly with the richness of the duck meat, providing a sort of horizontal taste next to the wavy curviness of the duck (spatial/visual thinker here--bear with me).
Our dining companions also ordered the duck and didn't like it. Their complaint: too salty.
But it was not salty at all. No salt was used in the sauce, our friendly waiter graciously reported. My conclusion from this? British/North American palates expect duck + something sweet. Whether it's an orange glaze or a Chinese plum sauce, the idea is that duck is equated with sweetness. To have a lovely perfectly spiced horizontal low-level buzz of dal underneath the duck means to be forced (against their will) to taste the duck itself. And so, Duck à l'orange has ruined duck for an entire population spanning the Atlantic. Very very sad.
This is borne out by my experience today trying to find a recipe to use to cook the duck I purchased this week in my Sainsbury's delivery. It was on sale. I'd never cooked duck before and I thought: hey, I like duck! and then hey, why not? So I have a duck in the fridge. Sorry Ruth. I looked in a variety of cookbooks, and aside from the basic roasting instructions for all birds in the Good Housekeeping, all of the recipes involved apricot jam or some sort of citrus-honey sauce or, in one interesting innovation, a honey-thyme sauce which sounds lovely but frankly still ends up in the too sweet category.
I did find a recipe--Madhur Jaffrey to the rescue once again--she's got a whole stuffed duck recipe in her Invitation to Indian Cooking that looks lovely. It has raisins and dried apricots in it (sweet) but they are in the stuffing, entirely different from a glaze. I may cook dal with it as well. I will report back.