D’Ablaing is among several Kansas City chefs using fun and unique duck preparation to steal the show this Thanksgiving.
The secret at Brookside Poultry Co., he says, isn’t the quality of the bird. It’s the preparation — specifically, the brining, in which all of the ducks he'll serve over the course of Thanksgiving week must soak for 72 hours. His mixture requires a lot of each ingredient.
"It's a cup and a half of kosher salt. I've got four cups of sugar, a quarter cup of black pepper ground. I've got a half cup each of lemon juice, orange juice, and lime juice," D’Ablaing says as he pours in each new ingredient.
D’Ablaing admits it may seem as if the recipe calls for too much of each ingredient, but he says the brine should taste too salty and too sweet. As a bird soaks, it will begin to absorb and equalize those overbearing flavors throughout the meat.
“The sugar, the essence of the lime, the lemon, orange all that stuff, it's going to absorb that stuff. So this brine is going to become much less salt, much less sweet as it goes,” he says.
Another ingredient is patience. After pouring this mixture over top of his birds, D’Ablaing and lets them sit for the next three days. Then he moves them over to an oven where they'll cook for about four hours, longer than the average duck.
D’Ablaing does add one secret step at the end: He dunks the duck in the fryer for a second or two, making the skin tight and crispy.
It’s a simple process, followed by an even simpler presentation. The duck is split in half and placed skin side up on the plate. It also comes with a big box of gloves for eating utensil-free.
“It's supposed to be kind of a fun way to eat it,” D’Ablaing says. “But also, it's not so messy then because it is fall-off-the-bone tender.”
At New Peking Chinese Restaurant in Westport, Manager Tony Teng says they use all of the duck, down to the bone, in their Duck Three Ways.
“We don’t want to waste. We want to make sure we use every bit of the duck for this dish,” Teng says. “It’s just a fun way to prepare and we try and make it fun to eat.”
In this three-course meal, the first dish is stir fry with bean sprouts, made from the scrap meat. They use the bones and a broth for the second dish, a duck soup. The last dish is the most unique: a Peking duck made from the bulk of the meat served with Chinese pancakes to eat the meat like a burrito.
Duck is also a staple at Jasper’s Italian restaurant, where the oven-roasted half duck has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1954.
Jasper’s duck is stuffed, seasoned and then put in the oven for slow roasting until it's crispy-skinned, then served over wild rice with a reduction of blood orange, cranberry and balsamic vinaigrette. It comes with a sauce as well, but chef and owner Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. wants to make sure the bird is the center of attention.
“Sometimes the sauce can mask the taste of the bird,” Mirabile says. “We want to make sure the taste of the meat shines through.”
Like D’Ablaing, Mirabile keeps his focus on the cooking process.
“We want it to have the same quality taste every time. It should be prepared with a careful eye on each step of the process,” Mirabile says.
Whether it’s half a duck at Jasper’s, both halves of a duck at Brookside Poultry or every last bit of a duck served in different ways at New Peking, doing the little things well can go a long way.
“The big thing is taking the simple things and putting some technique to them and making them right,” D’Ablaing says.
Noah Taborda is an Intern with KCUR's Central Standard. Follow him on Twitter @NoahTaborda