I hadn’t attended a cooking class since early 2020, right before the global pandemic began. So I was actually returning to the same cooking school (with an expanded space, so a far larger kitchen than three years ago!) I had visited in 2020 because for Christmas, Chris got me a cooking class specifically on how to make duck. Duck has always seemed intimidating to me for many reasons, and it’s clear that I’m not the only one scared of it: finding a whole raw duck, cut up in pieces, or duck breasts or thighs is quite hard in New York City (and likely most of the U.S.). The instructor at the class on Friday night said that he struggled to source the ducks for this cooking class and had to go to multiple stores and online shops to finally find them, at the right time, on FreshDirect, finally in stock once again.
Duck, because of its high fat content and super thick, fatty skin, is daunting to cook because it’s very easy to mess up. And when you do mess it up, it’s a really expensive mistake.This cooking class was probably the best cooking class I’ve ever taken in terms of learning technique, understanding how duck compares to other poultry (most commonly chicken), and the instructor was very clear and thorough both in explaining and in how he demonstrated. The key to making sure you cook duck perfectly is to go low and slow. You can’t rush duck, as it needs a lot of time and patience. On top of that, it’s best to have some good equipment (dutch oven, stainless steel or cast iron pan, a reliable low/medium-low heat setting on your stove), as well as… even more patience for the cleanup. Duck fat splatters literally everywhere. The fat was flying everywhere, especially during the rendering of the duck breast skin and the frying of the confit. When the cleaning lady came at the end of class after we all finished eating, I felt so terrible for her. Who knows how long that mess would take to clean up, and I’m sure there would be duck fat splatters hiding where you least expect it. I hope the cooking school was paying her well for such a sticky mess.
Another interesting thing about this class in particular is that for the very first time, it was a majority of men taking the class. There were 11 students total – eight men and three women. The two other women came with their spouses/partners. All the other men came on their own. Everyone in this class seemed to enjoy cooking and cooked regularly, and they all seemed to be intermediate-plus home cooks. I guess that’s further proof just based on this small cohort that duck is not really for the faint of heart, or someone who isn’t familiar with even how to boil water.
That meal was essentially two meals in one. I tried to eat what I could, but it was so, so much. Each of us essentially had a whole duck breast AND a whole duck thigh (confit) to ourselves, on top of a beautiful salad (with duck skin crisps we made!!) and Pommes Anna. I could not imagine anyone leaving that class still feeling hungry or like they did not get their money’s worth. The duck we made was restaurant quality, if not better. It’s inspiration for me to make it at home at some point… assuming that I am willing to splurge and also enlist Chris in the intense duck fat splatter cleanup.