By Brandon Hill
A year ago we started planning a culinary tour to Gascony in southwest France which delightfully proved to be more than we expected. Like many we had heard of the wine-famous region of Gascony with its rolling countryside hills with patchworks of vineyards, farms, and chateaus and castles converted into B&Bs. However, we learned from reading a New York Times article by David McAninch that duck is Gascony's brightest shining star on most Gascon plates from weeknights in simple homes to celebratory occasions at any of the numerous and delectable local restaurants that circle in heavenly Michelin orbits. Duck itself was enough to pique our interest, but our curiosity about this new specific aspect of Gascony presented the question, "Which ducks are preferred for cooking in France?"
I, myself, grew up in a farming, ranching and dairy family in northeastern Oklahoma about 10 miles southwest of Muskogee down Highway 69. While the childhoods of my parents' and grandparent's generations on the farm included lessons on wringing chickens' necks by hand and singeing their feathers, luckily we had progressed exclusively to beef and dairy cattle by the time my brother and I came along. That means names like Holstein, Angus and Hereford are as common as Mom and Dad to us. Yes, there were ducks around, but they and their American duckling offspring were mostly of the Mallard varieties and predominantly served to complete the farmyard aesthetic and provide entertainment.
Living in Oklahoma beef country most ducks weren't raised for eating and on some level I suspect they knew. This was commonly displayed by their demeanor of superiority, especially as they strut-waddled past the cattle sipping from their ponds. I'm not fluent in duck quack. Frankly I would rate myself more as a beginner than conversational, but from what I could make of it they were assertively informing the indifferent cattle of their ultimate futures under cellophane and the unflattering fluorescent lights of a grocer's meat section. To lighten the blow the ducks would often follow with the reassuring prospect of how the cattle could at least hope to wind up on display in a Whole Foods or Central Market or getting all dressed up (in southwest spices) on the Vegas Strip by Bobby Flay at Mesa Grill. French ducks on the other hand do not share the same duck dynasty destiny as their American cousins.
Let's now narrow the field on ducks for dining. The fork for this family tree, as I gathered from Saver, D'Artagnan, and Wikipedia really only has two prongs. Here's the simple story.
Pekin/Long Island: These North American ducks are known for being meaty yet mild in taste.
Moulard/Mulard: "So a South American drake and a sparkling white hen from Long Island meet up in a bar..." This delectable duck is the ingenious hybrid of a Muscovy drake (male) and a Pekin hen and is graced with large breasts, rich meat and an abundance of duck fat, a favorite for amazing foie gras in Gascony.
All the extensive planning for our trip to Gascony comes to fruition this September. We are so eager to explore a culinary scene where more ducks are on the plate and maybe not so smug.