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Indeed, Frasier's and Gaier's new book is a kind of historical document, tracing Maine's food history for the past 250 years, from Native American clambakes, corncakes and puddings to spices culled from overseas trading to the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.
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.
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.
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