This duck stock calls for meaty duck necks, carrots, onions, and thyme. Once reduced, it becomes a luxuriously rich jiggly stock.
Quick. What comes to mind when you think of stock?
Sadly, a lot of us think of tin cans or waxy boxes. From their shiny, happy faces, the packages shout “All-Natural,” “Lower Sodium,” Rich-Tasting.” But then I take a swig—yes, I swig broth—and the truth is revealed. Sure, some are, indeed, lower-sodium—when compared with a salt lick. But the murky liquid inside is a flatliner, one with nary a pulse of flavor, despite being riddled with octosyllabic ingredients that sound as if they belong in automobile lubricant.
Shame, shame on us.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Homemade stock, simmered for hours with as many bones as you can cram into the pot, isn’t only trés facile to make, it’s a thing of beauty, filling the house with the unmistakable scent of nostalgia. Standing in front of that burbling pot, the steam opening your pores and filling them with its animal essence, you have a sense of purpose. You feel like one of those earnest people in wartime posters, wrench in hand, ready to defeat the Axis powers and be back at the table in time for dinner.
In my case, dinner is our annual cassoulet party. A casual affair, the party was started years ago by friend and LC recipe tester Cindi Kruth after one of those cloud-parting, angels-singing epiphanies in France when she first tucked into a crock of slowly simmered beans, sausage, and duck confit, all melded together by, of course, stock. Since then The One and I have had the pleasure of being invited several times to sit at her table, shoveling bowl after bowl of her marvelous creation—a recipe she’s been perfecting since her Divine Intervention—down our gullets. This year, though, thanks to dwindling numbers of guests and her dwindling waistline, she handed the duck fat-slicked baton to me. “Your turn,” is all she said. Fine, I thought. Imaginary wrench held high, I vowed to make a cassoulet for the ages. And that’s how I got the crazy idea to make homemade duck stock.
Ah, but not just any homemade stock. A stock that was intensely flavored, rich, and gelatinous. A stock so lovely, it would be a shame to cook with it. An über stock. That meant getting hold of a hell of a lot of duck bones. Meaty duck bones. (Both meat and connective tissue contain collagen. When gently heated in water, the collagen dissolves, causing the stock to turn into shimmying jellied gold.) Not having a freezer filled with duck parts meant one thing: a call to D’Artagnan. Although mostly sold to restaurants, meaty duck necks—the prima ballerina of stock ingredients and soooo much better than strip-mined duck carcasses—can be had for a reasonable price. Call and say, sotto voce, that David sent you. The only problem? The duck necks come exclusively in 25-pound boxes.
Nothing tests your stock-making resolve like a 25-pound box of frozen fowl. I was worried that the hardest part of my endeavor would be justifying to The One why I’d bought a box of duck necks the size of a library desk with our joint credit card. He just shook his head when he saw me stumble into the house—the resigned shake that only years of slamming into an immovable object can produce—and slumped out of the kitchen, muttering. But that was piffle next to figuring out what I was going to do with all those necks.
After seriously questioning my deductive reasoning, I ferreted out my dusty canning pot that has doubled as a washtub at times. Then I heaved it and a pasta pot onto the stovetop. Those, I was sure, would be big enough to accommodate all the bones. I decided to first ratchet up the flavor quotient by roasting the necks in a hot oven. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found myself dancing a happy jig when I noticed crusty, caramelized bits forming in the roasting pan. That drew The One into the kitchen, just like the giant animated aroma finger that beckoned Sylvester the Cat. Suddenly, my credit-card charge doesn’t seem so foolish after all, does it, mister? I loosened up the cracklings with a splash of water and dumped all that browned goodness into a waiting pot of cold water. He grew more curious, moving in closer, but I pretended not to notice. A little punishment never hurt anyone.
I resisted the urgings from cookbooks and chefs to add shallots, leeks, and onions to the pot. Or tomatoes and tomato purée. Or handfuls of sage, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram. Too much trumping up, thank you. I wanted a duck flavor so unadulterated, its feathers would seem to flutter on your tongue. I settled upon onions and carrots for an undercurrent of sweetness, garlic for the wee-est bite, and a tiny, tiny amount of tomato paste for a hint of umami. Fini. Acabado. Done.
Then came the simmering, which isn’t my bailiwick. I do few things at a simmer. It’s just not fast enough. I don’t even simmer at a simmer but rather at a moderate boil. Patience, darlin’, thy name is not David. But I knew that anything more than a slothful burble, the kind that sends up bubbles so infrequently it forgets what it’s doing, would cloud the stock with a foam of impurities from the meat and bones. So down went the heat and up went the spoon as I stood there, waiting, waiting, waiting for the scum—such an unfortunate food word, scum—to form and get all that grossness the hell out of there. Fidgety, I contemplated cranking the heat to a boil more than once, but that would only have defeated the purpose of skimming for scum. So after watching almost all of the new Jane Eyre film on DVD, I was finally in business.
Add another six hours, almost all of it unattended, and I was rewarded with eight quarts of a stock so flavorful, so rich, so “watch it wiggle and see it jiggle,” that even Cindi, the sitting Queen of Duck, deemed it the best she’d ever tasted.
It seems a coup d’état is brewing.
David’s Wriggle-riffic Duck Stock
Fear not, dear reader, the length of this recipe. It’s just me blowing a gale of hot air. All you have to do is roast, simmer, skim, reduce, chill. I just wanted to make sure every i was dotted and every t crossed. I don’t need you shaking your fists to the heavens because I was anything less than thorough.–David Leite
LC Watch It Wiggle, See It Jiggle Note
The image you see may seem to resemble a bowl of duck Jell-O more than duck stock. But actually, they’re one and the same. Sort of. Behold the glory of an über-stock whose every molecule is imbued with collagen, that gelatinous substance that makes gelatin—or Jell-O, if you will—wiggle, jiggle, quiver, and shimmy. (This wiggling, jiggling, quivering, and shimmying is much like what happens to your thighs when you, like David, bust into an impromptu happy dance over the superlatively rich, ducky smack of this stock.) Worry not: The wobbly blob of stock turns liquidy when subjected to mild heat. All the better for you to make a ducky take on pho or toss in some carrots and turnips and potatoes and deem it a duck pot au feu. The sort-of-solid stock freezes well, too, which gives you ample time to ponder what to do with the rest of your stash of duck stock. Er, über-duck stock.
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 12 H
- Makes 6 to 8 quarts