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A duck press is an innocuous-enough sounding name for a kitchen tool that actually has a rather macabre use.
Pressed duck is a famous dish in French cuisine and it uses, what else — a duck press for its creation. The dish begins innocently enough, with a roasted duck, with the legs removed and grilled. Thin slices are cut from the duck breast and those slices and the legs are returned to a reduction of red wine on a hot plate or in a chafing dish. The entire remaining carcass is then placed into the press.
This machine is usually made of brass or another heavy-weight metal. It stands about 20 inches (51 centimeters) tall and weighs somewhere around 25 pounds (11.3 kilograms). The press has a heavy disc attached to a turning screw, which ratchets the disc down into a container. The truly macabre ones stand on brass webbed duck feet.
After the duck carcass is placed inside the duck press, the waiter screws the metal disc down, down, down, pressing the carcass flat, in order to extract all the remaining juices and marrow. When this gruesome task has been accomplished, the waiter adds those juices to the wine reduction, along with a little brandy or cognac, and some butter. The resulting sauce and duck breast slices are then presented to the diner, along with the duck legs, with perhaps a shaving or two of truffle.
A man named Mechenet introduced the recipe in Paris in the early 1800s. It was a hit. Chef Frèdèric of the restaurant La Tour d' Argent copied the recipe and even went so far as to number the pressed ducks served in his restaurant, since it was the establishment’s signature dish. Over 1 million pressed ducks have been served at La Tour d’Argent, which is still open.
I've actually had pressed duck. It was at Antoine's in New Orleans. We were there on some kind of anniversary celebration, and they did pressed duck, just for that evening.
I wasn't where I could see the actual operation, so maybe that had something to do with it. If I'd seen the whole thing, I might feel like Grivusangel does. As it is, it really was delicious and the sauce was wonderful. I think I had in mind that pressed duck was like a spatchcocked chicken - you know, pressed flat and grilled. I honestly didn't know it was squashed in a turnscrew device. That does give it a rather icky air, I have to say.
The author of this article is right -- this is a little gruesome! I like roast duck well enough, but the idea of a duck press is just a little too much for me -- on webbed feet, yet.
I suppose some foodie gourmands would think I'm completely unsophisticated because the idea grosses me out, but you know, I've never been one to eat "variety" meats -- also known as "innards" anyway. The very idea makes me nauseated. I've seen a photo of a duck press, but I didn't know what it was, and I certainly didn't know how it was used. This might be some enlightenment I wish I didn't have.
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