I was sitting in church, studying the congregation, and wondering, WHO has too many ducks in their freezer? I was craving my husband’s duck stew.Duck season was over, and we had no ducks. I knew there were people out there who wanted to reclaim their freezers. I kid you not, just as the service ended, my friend, Greer, came up to me and said, “Could The Nashville Food Project use a freezer full of ducks?” If I weren’t in church, I’d say it was a very Twilight Zone-y moment. I laughed and told Greer about my daydreaming in church. I told her TNFP would love to have her ducks, and could she possibly spare eight breasts for us? The next morning, Greer and I met up at TNFP headquarters, and she donated a grocery bag full of frozen duck breasts to the ever resourceful, Anne Sale, TNFP’s Meals Coordinator. It was a win-win-win-win-win situation: Greer got her freezer space back, David, her husband, a volunteer truck team driver at TNFP, felt good about donating his ducks to a great cause, Anne got a free source of protein to figure into her weekly meal planning, at least fifty people in Nashville would be nourished by the donated meat, and my family and I got to enjoy a bowl of my husband’s longed for duck stew. Blessings all around!
Yield: 5 quarts (This recipe can be easily divided in half.)
8 duck breasts (2 pounds- they each weigh about 4 ounces), cut into 1″ chunks
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
6 celery stalks, sliced (about 3 cups)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped (about 5 cups)
10 carrots, sliced (about 3-1/2 cups)
1 apple, minced and mashed
10 cups chicken broth
2 cups red wine
2 pounds potatoes, white or sweet, chopped (about 8 cups)
2 teaspoons each salt and pepper, or to taste
Preheat oven to 250º if you have all day to cook the stew, or to 300º if you have half a day. A slow cooker works very well, too.
Prepare duck breasts:
Chop the duck breasts into bite-sized pieces
Into a paper bag, put flour, salt, and pepper. Add duck pieces, and shake so each piece of meat is evenly coated with the flour mixture. Discard excess flour.
Wash and scrub the veggies. As long as you scrub root vegetables, you do not need to peel them. Coarsely chop the onions, slice the celery and carrots, and mince and mash the peeled apple.
How to deglaze a pan: Deglaze the sauté pan with 1/4 cup broth, or red wine. Deglazing helps capture those little flavorful bits and pieces of carmelized meat that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir the liquid with a wooden spoon as you loosen the meat. Let it simmer about 30 seconds. Add drippings to stew. If you weren’t making a stew, you could mix the drippings with flour, heat until thickened, and make a tasty gravy.
Add onions, celery, carrots, and apple to the stockpot.
I keep a jar of this low sodium chicken base in the refrigerator for use when I don’t have chicken broth in the cupboard. I buy it at Costco. Bullion cubes would work well, too. I added 3.5 tablespoons of chicken base to 10 cups of hot water.
Add broth to stockpot.
Add salt as needed, lots of cracked pepper, and red wine.
Cover and put in oven, or slow cook, for 6 hours.
An hour before serving, add potatoes. I raised the oven temperature to 300 to cook the potatoes faster. It still took about another hour to cook. We used sweet potatoes this time because I thought they would offer a healthier choice. They were good, but they made the soup taste a little sweeter than we all liked. In the future, we’ll go back to white potatoes, which have the added benefit of thickening the stew.
One hour later, the stew was ready. My husband always serves it with homemade cornbread. My family likes to take a wedge of cornbread, break it up a bit, put it in the bottom of their bowls, and add the stew on top. I usually add a garnish of sliced green onions or parsley. Delicious! This is a family favorite that we look forward to every winter during duck hunting season.
There is truly no reason to read further. The stew is perfect as is. But, if you are the curious sort, there is a little more to this story. Someone happened to give me a container of roux cooked the traditional way–on the stovetop, as compared to the microwaved version described in my last post, Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage Gumbo.
Below, is a picture of the bowl of roux cooked to the “chocolate” colored stage. It is a little grainy in texture that makes sense because every grain of flour in it has been cooked to the point of caramelization. It IS “the difference between bread and toast”, as a New Orleans chef explained to me and which I described in my last post, as well. The roux is incredibly flavorful, and I’m beginning to appreciate more fully how a roux can impact a pot of gumbo in “mysterious” ways.
I was astonished by the flavor of the roux by itself, which was totally new culinary territory for me. I gave everyone in my family a taste. One son said it tasted like the good part of burnt popcorn, and another thought it tasted like the skin of roasted red peanuts.
I added 1/2 cup of the roux to the stew just to see how it would alter the stew’s flavor.
I let the stew simmer on the stovetop for another hour so the roux could do its magic.
It was delicious; very rich, and creamy in texture. We ate it all, but my kids missed their dad’s beloved version with white potatoes and roux-less. They liked their stew, thin. They liked to have their cornbread soak up all those juices. Next year, we’ll make it the old way, but it was fun to experiment with the thickening and flavor changes brought about by cooking with a roux.
Thank you, Greer and David, for the duck breasts!
P.S. Just as an FYI, my husband once made this stew in three hours, start to finish, cooking it all on the stovetop and it was perfect. It doesn’t have to be an all day project.
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