For Christmas Eve dinner itself, I was forced by ingredients to branch out of New England. Last Sunday, we all went out to Mount Airy, Maryland to cut down our Christmas tree. We take this pilgrimage most years. One year, we were on our way up Connecticut Avenue to get the tree when we were rear ended by a woman who wasn't paying attention. That year, we got our tree at John Eaton School. Last year, we didn't get a tree at all because we were going to London. But most years, we drive up 270, get off at the exit for Damascus, and argue about whether we turn right or left at the pond.
After we got back from cutting down the tree, and having lunch at the Italian deli in Mount Airy and shopping at Retro Metro, the quirky gift shop, we had a modest tree trimming party. Jake, a friend of my son's, drove up and conferred with son on the phone.
"Mom, does the cookbook have any recipes for wild duck?" Son inquired.
"Yes. Why do you ask?'
"Because Jake went duck hunting and he has some extra ducks. Do you want them?"
"Have they been plucked?" I asked, suspiciously.
They had in fact been plucked, and gutted, for which I was grateful. My father, the farmer, was a hunter. He had springer spaniels and went after duck and pheasant. I remember my mother yanking the feathers out of his catch, and removing various innards. I'm not so citified I couldn't do it, but I didn't think I was going to enjoy it.
But these ducks came frozen in plastic bags, with those neat little paper diapers that come under packaged meat and soak up the blood. I learned two more important things about cooking wild duck a couple of days later in a text message from my son. A. They must attain an internal temperature of 185 degrees. B. Watch out for the buckshot. This was one of a whole series of text messages on what must have been a slow day in the federal government. The rest of us went on a holiday expedition to a vineyard in Clifton, Va. As we were coming back along I-66 about 3:00, the west bound lanes were swollen with early rush hour traffic. I joked, "There go the federal employees, after a hard day of texting their mothers."
Anyhow, the recipe was amazing. It has curry powder, which made me go, uh oh, they won't be happy with this. My family likes curry, sort of. But it turned out wonderfully. One thing about duck. It has a much different structure than chicken. The bones are bigger and tougher. It's harder to cut it up. A pair of really good shears would be a gift.
Wild Duck Country Captain (Alabama)
1/2 cup flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 two and a half pound wild duck or two smaller birds, cut into serving pieces.
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cut finely chopped green pepper
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups Italian plum tomatoes
3 teaspoons dried currants
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1. Combine the flour, salt and pepper and coat the duck pieces with the mixture.
2. Heat the b utter in the large skillet and brown the duck pieces in it. Remove duck pieces and reserve.
3. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, curry powder and thyme to the skillet and cook, stirring, until onion is golden brown. Add the tomatoes and duck pieces. Cover and cook forty minutes or until duck is tender. Stir in the currants and almonds and serve with buttered rice tossed with chopped parsley.
With two ducks, four servings.