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Ducking into Spring, Maine Style

A recipe for duck roasted with garlic and thyme, plus 14 recommended Merlots and Rieslings to match

Laurie Woolever
Posted: April 15, 2011

After the long winter, it's a pleasure to welcome guests to your home with a festive meal of whole roasted birds, simple seasonal side dishes and wines that complement the flavors of the table. We asked chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier of Arrows restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine, and co-authors of the new book, Maine Classics, for a foolproof-yet-impressive idea for holiday entertaining. They obliged with a roasted duck recipe from the book.

"This is a variation on my mother's duck recipe, that she learned from a Hungarian lady," explained Frasier. "People are always looking for a great technique, a little trick, like the way the water is used in this recipe. The two big fears that people have with duck is that it will be fatty, or it will be tough, but in this recipe, when you start with that very high heat, that helps render a lot of the fat but leaves you with the crisp skin. And the water sort of slowly steams it while it roasts, so you end up with really moist meat that's completely done. There's no red meat in this thing—this isn't nouvelle cuisine."

Indeed, Frasier's and Gaier's new book is a kind of historical document, tracing Maine's food history for the past 250 years, from Native American clambakes, corncakes and puddings to spices culled from overseas trading to the foragers, fishermen, small farmers and artisan cheesemakers and bakers who make up the new face of Maine cuisine.

For side dishes, try steamed asparagus, roasted new potatoes, parsnips and carrots, or ramps sautéed with green garlic. As for the wines, the generous fruit flavors and moderate tannic structure of Merlot and Merlot-based blends make a good partner with duck. We’ve suggested some affordably priced red Bordeaux along with some easy-to-find Washington brands as a counterpoint. If you prefer whites, the fruity, tangy notes of Riesling—whether from its traditional home in Germany or newer growing regions in Washington and Oregon—can work with the chutney while providing good contrast with the rich meat.

Roasted Duck with Garlic and Thyme

Recipes from Maine Classics (Running Press, 2011) by Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier

• 2 fresh ducks, each about 5 pounds
• 6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
• 24 fresh thyme sprigs, plus 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
• 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• Pear chutney (recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 500° F. Stuff the cavity of each duck with half the garlic and sprigs of thyme, divided evenly. Sprinkle the tops of the duck with chopped thyme, salt and pepper.

2. Place 1/2 inch of water in a roasting pan that's large enough to hold both ducks. Place the ducks in, breast side up, and place in the oven. Turn the temperature down to 400° F.

3. Flip the ducks after 30 minutes, and again after another 30 minutes. The birds should appear golden brown and the legs should move easily. If they are not yet done, roast for another 15 minutes.

4. Remove the ducks from the roasting pan and place on a cutting board. Allow the birds to rest for 10 minutes. Carve the ducks and give each person some of the breast meat, leg and thigh, with the chutney served alongside. Serves 6.

Pear Chutney

Note: While spring isn't exactly pear season in the northeast, Frasier said, "A big aspect of Maine cooking is canning and preserving everything you can from your summer garden. In the springtime, a pear or peach you've canned yourself is going to taste a lot better than one flown in from Israel or Argentina." You may substitute peaches, apples or other fruits in this recipe.

• 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons peeled and chopped ginger
• 2 cups peeled and diced pears
• 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
• 1 serrano chile, whole
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

Melt the butter in a non-reactive saucepan and sauté the ginger until soft, about 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are tender, about 20 minutes. Let the chutney cool to room temperature and remove the chile. The chutney can be kept in a sealed container for three days.

RECOMMENDED MERLOTS AND MERLOT-BASED BLENDS

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Merlot Columbia Valley Indian Wells 2008 Score: 90 | $18
Dark and rich, this is packed with blueberry, plum and currant fruit that picks up hints of white pepper and floral notes on the finish. Lingering easily, this should hold nicely. Drink now through 2014. 42,600 cases made. —H.S.

COLUMBIA CREST Merlot Horse Heaven Hills H3 2008 Score: 90 | $15
Ripe, supple and seductive, delivering a plush mouthful of red berry, floral and pomegranate flavors, swirling effectively through the deftly balanced finish. Drink now through 2016. 40,000 cases made. —H.S.

CHÂTEAU ARNAUTON Fronsac 2008 Score: 88 | $16
This juicy red features a bramble edge to its dark currant and crushed plum fruit, with plenty of tobacco and iron notes filling in on the finish. Solid. Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Drink now through 2012. 10,000 cases made. —J.M.

BANTEGNIES & FILS Merlot-Cabernet Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Château Bertinerie 2008 Score: 87 | $17
This is pure and focused, with delicious anise, plum and red cherry fruit mingling with savory herb and black tea notes. Drink now through 2012. 20,000 cases made. —J.M.

CHÂTEAU BONNET Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux 2007 Score: 87 | $15
Forward, with a lightly toasty edge to the tobacco, mulled cherry and red currant fruit flavors. A tobacco edge lingers on the lightly firm finish. Drink now. 33,330 cases made. —J.M.

CHÂTEAU DE GOËLANE Bordeaux Supérieur 2008 Score: 87 | $15
Plump and open, offering a mix of raspberry and damson plum notes laced with floral hints. Fresh finish. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Drink now. 30,000 cases made. —J.M.

CHÂTEAU TANESSE Premières Côtes de Bordeaux 2008 Score: 87 | $15
Forward and fresh, displaying a juicy, medium-weight core of plum and red currant woven with plenty of grilled herb and chalk notes. The finish is nicely firm. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Drink now. 24,000 cases made. —J.M.

RECOMMENDED RIESLINGS

Chateau Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen Riesling Columbia Valley Eroica 2009 Score: 90 | $24
Light and tart, the acidity balanced against gentle sweetness as the tangy grapefruit and apple flavors linger beautifully. Drink now through 2019. 12,600 cases made. —H.S.

St.-Urbans-Hof Riesling QbA Mosel 2009 Score: 90 | $15
A firmly structured, racy style, featuring fresh lime, peach and savory, slate-infused flavors that permeate this sleek white from start to finish. Shows excellent length for the category. Drink now through 2016. 12,000 cases made. —B.S.

Charles Smith Riesling Columbia Valley Kung Fu Girl Evergreen Vineyard 2009 Score: 89 | $12
Light and fragrant, this is on the dry side, featuring tangy grapefruit and apple flavors that linger gently. Drink now. 34,400 cases made. —H.S.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling Willamette Valley 2009 Score: 89 | $12
Soft and appealing, brimming with peach and floral character, nestling easily into the long, off-dry finish. Drink now through 2013. 24,000 cases made. —H.S.

Cupcake Riesling Columbia Valley 2009 Score: 88 | $14
Light and jazzy, with lots of peach and apple flavors, finishing with hints of cream and clove. Drink now. 10,000 cases made. —H.S.

Villa Wolf Riesling QbA Pfalz Saint M 2009 Score: 88 | $12
White peach and apple flavors are well-spiced and full of bright ripe tangerine notes in this white, which is very clean and delicate on the finish, featuring golden raisin notes. Drink now through 2015. 26,880 cases made. —K.M.

Joel Gott Riesling Columbia Valley 2009 Score: 87 | $12
Light and soft, offering pretty pear and pepper flavors. Finishes with a lime note. Drink now. 12,000 cases made. —H.S.

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