Smoked Duck with Potatoes and Frisée
It’s not the sort of meal you make and serve with a casual shrug: Preparing a whole duck for dinner is an occasion—and a gesture of generosity and serious sentiment. Duck is my dad’s favorite thing to eat and something he rarely splurges on when dining out, so every summer I smoke one for him as his Father’s Day gift (and round out the evening with a couple of great bottles of Pinot Noir).Before I started relying on my trusty PK Grill to fire up dinner multiple times a week, preparing duck at home was a daunting process. I fretted about splattering fat and overcooking and drying out the meat. When I made gumbo, I relied on my local Asian grocery for a roasted duck (something I still recommend in a pinch).But grill-roasting a duck is as easy as a chicken (particularly when you use an instant-read thermometer to gauge doneness), and the deeply flavored results are as satisfying as anything you can get in a restaurant. Because the smoke provides its own seasoning, you don’t need to add much more to the equation. I usually season the bird with a warm, peppery mix of pink and black peppercorns and salt. Before trussing, I insert a shallot and fresh herbs in the cavity (feel free to add garlic or a quartered satsuma to the mix) to perfume the meat, and I coat the skin with a splash of Maggi Seasoning sauce (a trick to enhance the umami flavors).Part of duck’s appeal, of course, is its flavorful fat. So, when I smoke duck over indirect heat I capture the rewards of that slow roast by cooking something else underneath. In this case, a cast-iron skillet of potatoes crisp and become tender under a steady baste of rendering duck fat. Afterwards, I balance the hearty meat-and-potatoes mix with a pile of peppery greens like frisée that have been lightly dressed with red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and olive oil. The combination is both rustic and refined, and surprisingly time-efficient—a griller’s version of a one-dish wonder.By the time I carve the gorgeously bronzed bird, my dad and I have certainly enjoyed a glass or two of that Pinot and a couple of hours together on lawn chairs in the driveway, trading memories and favorite stories from my childhood. In that way, my gesture is actually a gift to myself, because smoking a duck provides a hall pass to be still, to appreciate the pleasures of the moment, and to enjoy the wafting aromas of the meal to come.