I saw this in a recent issue of Bon Appetit. I saw it, and I wanted it. And it stuck there, in the back of my brain, waiting for a good reason to jump out and get made. And then I saw an opportunity. A couple friends invited us over to grill, and I was thrilled to ask to bring corn on the cob (with miso butter, of course!). Now if you haven’t heard of compound butters before, be prepared to have your world rocked. They are the easiest, most low-maintenance way to add some incredible flavor to your food. And all you need is a bowl, spatula, softened butter, and your flavorings. Some of my favorites are anchovy compound butter (on steak!), or cilantro-lime compound butter (corn, chicken, fish, shoe leather). You could go any direction with this though. If you use a small food processor, you can even incorporate fairly large amounts of liquid (think white wine/lemon/dijon). But let’s get back to the issue at hand… how to make it.
Start off with some good butter. Really. Something like Kerrygold has an appreciably better consistency, flavor, color, etc. Store brand has a high water content and overall is just not as tasty. But if not buying fancy butter is going to get in the way of you making compound butter, some compound butter is better than none!
Soften that butter, thoroughly. During the summer, I can leave it out on the counter. During the winter, our house hovers around 60 degrees, and it’s just not warm enough to sufficiently soften butter. But luckily our microwave has a “butter soften” setting – no joke. And it works like a champ. However you generally soften butter, it should work. But you want it a hair softer than what you’d aim for in most baking recipes. Makes the mixing portion a little easier.
Put the butter in a bowl. Put your flavors in a bowl (if they’re very wet, you’ll need a food processor), mix.
4 Tablespoons miso
pinch red pepper flakes
That’s it. Compound butter.
To store, my favorite method is to roll it into logs. When serving, you can either slice off hunks, or unwrap the waxed paper and use them like a grease pastel to butter corn or rub a piece of toast.
To make a log:
Make a blob in a square of waxed paper
Fold over one side of the paper, then use a straight edge (I use a bench scraper) to push the blob into a more loggy shape (loggy is totally a word, right?).
Then you just roll up the rest of the waxed paper and twist the ends. I ended up making half a pound of miso compound butter, so I made 2 logs. One went directly into the fridge, and the other got vacuum sealed, labelled, and frozen.
I just want to preface this post with notes that it will probably be upsetting to many people. If you don’t want to read a vivid recollection of a less-than-perfect slaughter (or see photos of slaughter), please do not read further. If you are planning on judging me, please do the same. If you want an honest recollection of what happened, please continue on after the break.
We did it. We slaughtered 2 of the ducks. I went into this process with an idealized version of what I would go through emotionally. When I took the poultry processing class in January, I was a little upset by the actual killing portion of the process. I spent some time digesting it in my head, initially feeling like I’d be fine to do everything but the throat-slitting, and then as I spent more time thinking about it, believing that it would be more respectful to my ducks if I were the one to be on the knife. When the time came, I felt emotionally prepared for the slaughter. I was nervous, but resigned to the fact that the ducks we were slaughtering were male, and regardless of who slaughtered them, someone was going to (you just can’t have that type of male:female ratio in a flock). So I prepared. A lot. I made a list (I’m an exceptionally good list-maker, and it helps me to deal with nervous energy). I sharpened a paring knife that I know holds its edge well. Craig and I discussed the paring knife situation. He believed that a razor blade would be more painless. Not having a special razor skinning knife, we decided that a brand new blade and a set of vice grips would be our best/least painful option (this did not end up being the case, continue reading). I prepared all of the things that I would need for the ordeal, and when the time came, we got down to it. A couple of friends came over to help/support me through the ordeal.
The plan was that we’d wrap the duck in a towel, hold it facing down over a bucket, and then I would cut on both sides of the throat and allow it to bleed out. Then we’d proceed onto the other bird, get that done, and then move onto the rest of the processing job.
So we went to it. I cut both sides of his throat, and we let him bleed out. But every time we thought the body would have stopped moving, it didn’t. I am sure that he passed out fairly quickly as there was a great deal of blood loss, but we simply weren’t prepared for just how violent the thrashing would be. After 30 seconds or so, blood drainage had slowed significantly, but there was still post-death thrashing. I decided to remove the head entirely. Unfortunately, the razor blade/vice grip contraption kept rotating and I couldn’t get a good cut in. And I didn’t have the very sharp paring knife there next to me, so a friend had to run to the shelf to grab it for me to facilitate the head removal. I was on the verge of tears. It was really terrible. After the head came off, it continued moving a little (the tongue was wiggling) and the wings continued thrashing for a while. The duck was indisputably dead (obviously, no head) but there was some serious movement. We were all pretty upset. My helper decided that she couldn’t hold duck #2, so I was very lucky in that my other friend (who was just there to watch and support me) stepped up and was willing to hold the second duck. We took a break. I sat in the shade, had part of a cocktail, and calmed down a little. Then we rediscussed the game plan, and decided that taking the head off almost immediately would be the way that it needed to go. So my friend held the duck (wrapped a little tighter than last time), we got it calmed down a little, and I slit both sides of its throat, let it bleed for 3 seconds, then quickly made one final cut, snapped it’s head back, and removed it entirely. Under 5 seconds and the duck was definitely dead. But for another 1-2 minutes (it felt like forever, I’m not entirely sure just how long this lasted, honestly) the body kept moving in exactly the same way that the first duck’s body kept moving. It brought us all a little solace to know that the first duck died nearly as quickly as the second one.
After that, I needed another few minutes to process/calm down. Then was time to scald/pluck them. We dunked them in 152 degree water, that had been mixed with dawn dish soap. The dish soap is necessary with ducks to cut through the oils in their feathers so it gets down to the skin and the feathers release. I luckily had a very large, 15 gallon pot that I use for beer making that came in very handy in this endeavor.
And boy did we pluck! Ducks have a great many small feathers that are very difficult to remove. The pin feathers weren’t unbearable, and we got all of those, but the downy stuff on the black parts of the duck looks like stubble under the skin (if you’re very pale with dark hair, you’ll understand) and there was no removing it, short of duck wax. We got the breasts very clean, but everything else got clean “enough”, as it’ll either be confit (which we will unfortunately have to remove the skin from) or be stock, which will be thoroughly strained, so there will be no feathers in the final product.
The rest of the process involves cutting off the feet and neck, then very carefully removing the guts. I don’t have a ton of the specific detail photos, but I’ll share a few that I do have.
The neck and esophagus
The gizzard – full of stones, and some pumpkin I tossed in there the morning before.
Once they were cleaned, I broke them down to breasts, legs, back, & wings. We gave the liver, gizzard, and heart to the dogs. Breasts got vac packed, legs got vac packed together, and the back, wings, and feet got vac packed together for making stock.
After this, I began drinking. I was upset and needed to put it out of my mind. Once people had left and I had a little time with my thoughts, I cried. I felt guilty that the death of the first duck took longer than it needed to. I felt sad that such charming animals had died at my hand. And I felt sad that it had upset Craig as well. It was a bad night. I had trouble sleeping. I woke up the next morning, hungover and still bummed. I was very sad all morning. Over the course of the day, my outlook improved. I started thinking about the positive things that I had done. I gave those ducks a great life. They were happy, clean(for ducks), secure, and well-fed. Compared to a CAFO situation, their death was still minimally violent and traumatic. They went with love. And they had someone who cared enough about them to cry for their deaths. I’m not quite ready to cook or eat them. That’s going to take a few weeks. But they will be prepared with the utmost respect and care when I do.
It’s possible that one of the remaining 3 is a male. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to bring myself to slaughter it. Based on my reading, ducks take appreciably longer to “die” than chickens. Combined with the personality factor and general hilarity they provide, I don’t think these are going to be meat birds, except in extreme circumstances. Someone locally had some interest in having me help slaughter a couple of roosters that she has (roosters are prohibited in our town). I told her I’ll help with everything but the actual death part. Depending on how that ends up going, we still may raise a few cornish x chickens for the freezer this coming spring, but I’m still not confident that I am willing to handle killing them myself. I do have another friend who has expressed that he may be willing to cut their throats for me (or Craig has offered to shoot them in the head with a .22), but I am going to need a few months to process this emotionally and determine whether I can handle it. And I realize how silly it seems that I am sad about the death of my ducks, when I do not feel sad when purchasing a chicken at the grocery store, that had an awful life and incredibly traumatic death. I still haven’t worked through the logic in that.
A few weeks ago, I shared a couple photos of the tunnels that had been appearing in my duck pen.
A few days ago, I drained the stinky duck pond, and when I went to refill it, I decided to flood the tunnel. But you know what? That tunnel tool so much water! I couldn’t get it full the the top. There’s some volume in that bad boy. Getting discouraged, I decided to at least make it an unattractive place to tunnel by locating some stinky dog poop and burying it several inches down from the entrance to the tunnel. So I grabbed a shovel and went on the hunt. Several seconds later, a large rodent sprinted from the corner of the yard near the duck pen towards our deck. Boris, of mouse-hunting fame caught that M F-er before it made it under the deck. A few pointed bites and it stopped moving. A firm “LEAVE IT.” and he backed off to let me snap the neck with my shovel and pick it up for disposal. I was so proud of him. Once I got it out of the yard, I set it down for further inspection. It appears to be a mother rat, as it had swollen udders (I assume I drowned the offspring in my tunnel flooding). And that sucker was big. Think of all the free duck food it’s been eating! I was so proud of Boris that I took a photo and texted it to Craig. His response? “WTF”
Anyway, Boris got extra treats and an invitation onto the bed that night. You know, after I cleaned the blood off his lip.
This was incredible! As part of my cold-food push last week, I made a soba noodle salad. And it was delicious.
The great thing about salads like this is that you can usually make them with stuff you have lying around the house. I did pick up some scallions and a bell pepper for this, but everything else is generally a staple in our house. Your mileage may vary.
Cold Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad (serves 4-6)
1/2 english cucumber, cut into 3-4″ matchsticks
1/2 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into thin slices
5 scallions, white and light green parts sliced on a bias
9 oz package (or similar) dry soba noodles, spaghetti, udon, whatever kind strikes your fancy.
2-3 T peanut butter
1 T sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 T sesame oil
2 T neutral oil (I used avocado)
4 T soy sauce
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 T hot chili oil
1″ fresh ginger, peeled & grated
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled & grated
Toasted sesame seeds or furikake seasoning
*Prep your veggies and set them aside
*Toss your sauce ingredients all together and whisk to combine. If your peanut butter won’t break up, microwave for 10-30 seconds and whisk again. Taste. You may need more acid (vinegar) or salt (soy sauce). Continue to taste and adjust until things seem good.
*Boil your water for your noodles, cook according to package directions (my soba noodles took 4 minutes), drain, then rinse under cold water
*Toss your noodles with the dressing, then mix in your veggies. Taste again, you may need to adjust seasonings once again.
*Plate your noodles, top with some sliced avocado (if you like) and a sprinkling of sesame seeds/furikake seasoning.
*Enjoy, also, this makes rad leftovers and is good at room temp too, so would probably be a good picnic candidate
So it’s been pretty hot in Washington this year. Today Seattle experienced it’s 10th day in a row with temperatures topping 80 degrees. This summer, we have had 28 days over 80, with many of them in the high 80s and 90s. It’s more than our poor, pale, PNW bodies can handle! I have some enormous tomatoes in the garden, but generating heat inside the house, especially our house, which gets baked with hot sun from dawn til dusk, is a surefire way to make the rest of the evening miserable. We have air conditioning, but avoid using it unless we get just too uncomfortable. So in the dog days of summer, we try to avoid cooking inside. For the first couple weeks that it’s really hot, I find cooking outside-only to be a really fun and neat way to challenge myself, but by week 3, I am DONE with it and just want to turn the oven on and bake something! Unfortunately, all of this week and the next 10 days are forecasted to be in the 80s and above. So I am meal planning to avoid getting takeout. Hopefully my list helps to inspire something other than a boring salad for you this HOT HOT summer!
That was supposed to be a duck and update portmanteau, but I fear that I may have just created a new reality tv show. The last time I shared photos of the ducks, they were creepy little dinosaurs, half covered in down, half in normal feathers, and growing rapidly. Things have since settled down and life is easier in Duckingham Palace. Well, mostly. So we have 5 ducks. 2 of them are 2 weeks older than the other 3.
A L’Orange (male): This one was initially my favorite. He’s huge, ballsy, fairly friendly with me, and has this incredible iridescent black on his entire back. But now he’s a jerk. He is definitely the leader of the flock, but he’s like Lenin. He rules with an iron fist. I was feeding the ducks some scraps of lettuce the other night, and he bit one of the females on the back right between her wings and wouldn’t let go, even when she was squawking. I had to flick him in the neck to get him to let go. Jerk.
Ina (female): She thinks that I am satan. Every time I pick her up, she shakes. So I’ve stopped picking her up, and I’m trying to gain her trust in more sneaky ways. Primarily by luring her over to me when I am feeding snacks. She is appreciably larger than the 3 younger ducks, so I assume that her and A L’Orange’s mother was much bigger than the mom of the 3 younger duckies. As she gets older, the brown barring on her chest should smooth out to the blue color seen on the rest of her feathers.
Alison (female): This one was my favorite the day that I brought them home, but then she quickly fell out of favor when she wouldn’t stop peeping. Since then, she has really caught my eye. She is reserved, gentle, and fairly polite. Unfortunately, she lets the other ducks push her around and pick on her (she’s the one that the bully duck bit) Her coloring is interesting. It’s similar to Ina’s, but she has a pretty white apron thing going on.
And then there’s the twinsies, Confit and Martha (male & female): They were both white/yellow when we first got them, but have since developed a really beautiful black and white barring. Based on my research, after a molt, they will probably only retain the barring on their bellies, and the rest of their feathers will grow in as solid black. The main way to tell the two apart is their size. Confit (the male) is about 50% larger than the other 2 young-uns, and also a hair darker than Martha.
OK, so now that you know who is what and you’ve seen current photos of them, I can tell you the rest.
The rodent: I think I have some sort of rodent living in my pen. I’ve seen a series of burrows tunneling OUT of the enclosure. I keep filling them in with rocks and whatnot, and I haven’t been able to find a creature, but we shall see. Hopefully lifting the feeder off the ground will help reduce the ease of food acquisition. Either way, the ducks don’t seem bothered by it, I haven’t seen evidence of any damage to them, so at this point it’s just a small pest.
The pond: Ooof. The ducks make this thing so disgusting that even THEY won’t go in it after 3-4 days. It’s a 125 gallon pond. That’s a LOT of water to drain and refill every 3 days. I have started only filling it to the bottom level and letting them use the stepback as a preening spot. They seem to be enjoying it, and I prefer using less than half the water.
The sexes: I initially had a great deal of stress about determining who is male and who is female. I have literally hours sunk into research. And you know what? None of it was helpful! The only thing that I can effectively use is their voices once mature! The females make a sort of twirring noise, kind of like a high pitched combination of a cat’s purr and a bird’s cheep. It’s actually really cute. They do it when they’re excited that I brought them some lettuce/weeds/kale to eat. The males make a raspy hissy sound. Kind of like I’d imagine a heavy smoker would sound like if they were panting. It’s less cute, but a good way to tell the difference. Which brings me to my next point.
The slaughter: We are going to kill the males. Based on a huge pile of drama on a facebook muscovy duck group in which I got called a “Sadistic Twat,” people are really upset at the idea of eating what has historically been a meat bird, which… whatever. I took a poultry processing class earlier this year to see if it was something that I could stomach. It is. Shortly after the class, I was still processing my emotions about taking a life. Months later, I have come to terms with reality. I’m not vegan. I’m not vegetarian. I’m not interested in being either of those things. What it comes down to, is that animals are going to die so that I can eat them. Chickens from the grocery store have awful lives. And their deaths? Equally awful. They’re full of fear. It’s not a good situation for them. So, by raising and eating at least a few of my own animals(happy, healthy, and respectfully harvested), I am effectively reducing the number of chickens that experience that. These ducks are livestock to me, not pets. And males do not provide a service to me. I prefer not to have siblings breeding, I am not prepared to hatch out ducklings just yet, and males don’t lay eggs. They also rape female ducks. There is no reason for me to keep them around, and there are a few really juicy and flavorful reasons to slaughter them. So that’s what we are doing. I have 2 males, and my coworker and I are going to respectfully slaughter them in a few weeks. It’s going to be sad. But it’s also part of the circle of life. And depending on how this slaughter goes, we may see about raising several broiler chickens next spring for the freezer.