Many Are Cold, but Few Are Frozen

David Lawrence's personal blog

A Dead Duck's Head

The duck's frozen, milky eye took the charm out of my cooking experiment.

A week ago, on impulse, I bought a frozen Chinese duck at the Mercury Market. My wife didn't want to buy it, saying she didn't know how to cook duck. But I insisted that I'd look up a recipe on the Internet and cook it myself.

The duck was wrapped in plastic with Chinese writing on it. It was heavy and long, almost tubular. I liked its heft; so much more satisfying than a chicken.

I've always liked duck, but I've only eaten it in restaurants. I knew that I would never be able to make the sauces that usually come with it, but that didn't matter. I wanted to see what pure duck tasted like, without anything. It didn't take long to Google cooking instructions for roast duck.

I cut the end of the plastic bag and slid the duck out. That's when I saw its neck snaking halfway around its body, pressed into the fat on its side. I knew there would be a head before I saw it. And there it was:  pale, pink and flat, with an icy beak and a half-opened eye, a rude reminder that it used to be a living creature.

I had to get rid of the head. I took a knife and forced it through the neck, cutting as close to the body as I could. The neck was still a little frozen, and it made a ripping sound as I peeled it away from the body. I held it by a strip of fat and dropped it in the garbage. I couldn't look at its face.

I followed the instructions: poking holes in the skin, pouring boiling water over it, and turning it every half hour. A few hours later it was roasted. The layers of fat were melted away and the skin was crispy.  I was surprised at how much smaller it was when cooked, and how little meat there was. What was left tasted good, but while I was eating I couldn't help thinking about the head in the trash.

I doubt I'll ever cook duck again. Next week: lentils.