I don’t know about you, but I love duck. I don’t make it very often, but when I do, it’s usually for a special occasion. I’ve made it so many ways - I’ve tried Alton Brown’s method of steaming it, then searing it in a skillet to crisp the meat; I’ve plain old roasted it like a chicken in the oven; I’ve even ground it up and made it into meatballs. I love the rich flavor it lends to my plate, and because it is not as common as chicken may be on the modern dinner table, it lends a certain “Wow” factor to any occasion.
During the middle ages, like today, duck was less common than pork, chicken, and beef, but it was certainly on many a menu. Recipes on how to prepare mallards and wild duck can be found in the cooking texts from many cultures within SCA period. In some cases, while a recipe for the duck itself may not be present, one for how to prepare a sauce to accompany a roast duck would be, implying its presence on the table.
When I prepare a duck at home, because it is so special, I want to use as much of the animal as I can, to make it last a little while longer. Depending on what I’m doing with it, I will also render the fat from its skin, and use the bones to make stock once we’ve eaten the meat. This got me thinking - they had to have done something similar in period. Food was a precious commodity for a household of any socioeconomic status. Certainly, as much of the animals they ate would have been utilized as possible, whether it was for culinary purposes or not.
It is with this “Waste Not, Want Not” mentality that I approached this project. I wanted to see how many dishes I could make using a duck and all of its byproducts, and how far into the production of each of these dishes I could go while using only itself as my main ingredient.
In the first item, Hoerdrendreeten van Wilden Entvoghelen (Wild Duck Fritters), I used the meat from the duck to make meatballs, which were then either cooked by boiling in duck stock made from the bones, or fried in duck fat rendered from the skin.
For the second item, Chopped Liver, I used the offal from the duck, fried in duck fat, to create a dish with its innards.
The final item is the rendered fat itself, which has many uses in period - both culinary and medicinal.
In this article, I will be focusing on the duck fritters, as they were the main attraction of this particular project.
Hoerendreeten van Wilden Entvoghelen
(Fritters of Wild Duck)
This recipe is not taken directly from a period text. Rather, it is a concept inspired by several recipes from 15th century Dutch cookbooks.
Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen (15th-16th century) includes a recipe for a duck and bacon meat pie:
Pies of Wild Duck
 Pies of wild duck.  Take duck which has been laid in hot water with bacon. Add thereto  cloves or ginger.
I love duck, but when I made this pie, it was so rich that I could not eat a whole slice. So I began looking for other ways I could incorporate the luxury of duck meat into an SCA feast menu without overwhelming the diners. Just a taste is all I needed.
As I looked through other Dutch cooking texts, I came across a recipe for fritters...
2.1. Hoerendreeten or hot fritters
Take dough, tempered with eggs, and the afore mentioned stuffing. Make little balls and put it in the dough and beaten eggs. Let cook in boiling fat, and when they are done, coat with melted sugar. (Wel ende edelike spijse, 15th century)
... and zeroed in on the suggestion to fill it with “the afore mentioned stuffing,” which is a recipe involving pork, eggs, and raisins placed earlier in the text. I’ve actually made this stuffing before, only I filled apples with it, and it was delish! But I digress... I began to think - what if I took this meat-stuffed fritter variant, and used duck instead of pork? I knew I wanted to evoke the same flavors present in the wild duck pie, so I opted to use ginger and cloves as the main spices.
FOR THE MEATBALLS:
The meat from one whole duck (approx. 1 lb.)
4 oz. fatty bacon or fatback
The offal from your duck (optional)
The offal from your duck (optional)
1/4 c. milk
1/2 slice stale white bread, torn in pieces
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
Chicken or Duck Broth
|It's like school glue!|
Heat the milk up in a small pan, and add the stale bread. Remove from the heat and let this sit until the bread is soaked, then whisk to create a thin paste. Allow this to cool to room temperature.
|Tastes better than it looks, I promise!|
Take meat out of the fridge, and mix in the cooled milk paste, egg yolks, salt, pepper, ginger, and cloves. Pass through your meat grinder again using the medium grind plate. Form meatballs approximately 1 oz. in weight each. They will be delicate to handle, so be gentle! Place each meatball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then chill in the fridge for at least two hours so they firm up.
Here is where I did some experimentation with the cooking process. I actually halved the number of meatballs I made and cooked one batch by boiling them, and the other batch by frying them:
The other half other half of the meatballs were rolled in breadcrumbs, then fried in fat, just as modern meatballs are cooked. However, to show that duck fat was useful in the kitchen, and to try to incorporate as much of the duck as I could into this project, I used the duck fat I rendered myself from the little guy’s skin.
Boiling the meatballs is the documented technique with which to cook them, however the end product is tough, dry, and bland. Even though they were cooked in broth, there still wasn’t enough flavor in these meatballs.
Frying the meatballs produced a much more tender, moist, and flavorful result, but the breadcrumbs provide a crunchy crust that would be delightful if these were being eaten as is. Instead, the texture was out of place once dipped in batter and fried in the fritter dough.
My recommendation, after this experiment, is to bake these in the oven without using the breadcrumbs on the surface. You will get the same tenderness that frying brings, without the loss of flavor or the odd crunch that comes from the breadcrumbs.
Another thing I would do differently is to pass the meat through my grinder a second time using a finer grating plate. The fatback added the perfect amount of moisture to the duck meat without overpowering the duck flavor I was aiming for, but the large chunks of fat made the texture of the meatballs a little off, and could potentially prove to be an unpleasant experience for the person eating them.
Now, on to the fritter dough.
Fun Fact: The literal translation of the Dutch word hoerendreeten is “whore’s farts.” In doing some research on why fritters would be called by this name, and whether there was a modern version of the recipe I could use to help me redact, I learned that they were interchangeable with “Nun’s Farts,” or “Nun’s Puffs,” which are a common pastry still made today. They are very similar in structure to Yorkshire Pudding, only sweeter.
The original fritter recipe does not give you much help in figuring out how to make it - “take dough and temper it with eggs.” So I relied heavily on modern recipes for Nun’s Puffs There is not much deviation from this general recipe - which is, in fact, a dough that is tempered with eggs - and looking at modern recipes was helpful in nailing down the right proportions of ingredients.
2 cups AP Flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup milk
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Use water to thin the batter out if it is too thick for it to stick to the meatballs when you dip them. It should be the consistency of pancake batter, or maybe slightly thicker.
Put enough cooking oil for deep frying in a pot. For this project, I used duck fat I rendered myself (about 4 ducks’ worth), but canola or vegetable oil would be just fine. Heat the oil until it is hot enough for frying. (I test the temperature by dropping a small amount of batter in the oil - once it starts sizzling, it’s ready)
Once your meatballs have cooled and drained, dip each one in the batter until completely covered with a thick coating. Drop carefully into the hot oil and cook until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. DEVOUR.
This is by no means the final redaction of this recipe, as far as I’m concerned. I would like to do more research into the fritter batter - especially since funnel cake is another recipe in the same text, and I would guess its recipe would be similar to what is needed for the hoerendreeten. Still, the end result of this particular rendition was delightful, if not a bit labor-intensive.
Duck can be a fantastic addition to any feast menu, and it need not be served in large amounts. This is a wonderful way to make the meat stretch just a bit further, while giving your diners a satisfying taste of luxury!
(Stay tuned for Part Two: Rendering the Fat)
(Stay tuned for Part Two: Rendering the Fat)