Posted by: vlibrizzi | March 3, 2009

Burnt Duck

Over the past few weeks, as you have probably noticed in my blog entries, I have been doing a lot of cooking, and a lot of learning how to cook. With the assistance of friends, I have made a French souflee, a Chinese stir fry, and last night, at our book club (see photo to the right), I learned how to make a few different, and wonderfully spicy, Indian dishes (the one that you can see in the foreground of the photo is like a potato and pea empanada or pierogie, and in the background, in the plastic tupperware bowl, is a mixture of spicy vegetables that you place on top of bread like a warm bruschetta). 

I have been enjoying these cooking lessons from friends so much that I feel like I am actually checking off one of my goals for the year of learning how to become a better cook. And, I’ve been talking about cooking and my desire to become a better cook so much that friends have begun telling me about cooking lessons I can take in Paris (one of which I plan to look into called Atelier Chef) and have been recommending books about French cooking to me. 

Just this weekend, I started reading a great book (given to me by a friend) about an American woman who drops all that she is doing to move to Paris and enrolls in the famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. In reading about her classes and her descriptions of the foods she makes (creamy beef bourgignon, mustard chicken, chocolate souflee), my mouth waters, and I begin to feel that dangerous feeling inside of me that makes me think—Hey! I can do that too! 

So, as soon as I began reading the book, all I could think about was how I could enroll in courses at Le Cordon Bleu too. With only 10 more months here, and a heck of a lot of more French to learn, I’m not sure it’s something I could do in the immediate future, but I’ve been thinking…if I could just convince C. to move to Paris with me when he graduates from INSEAD, then maybe, just maybe, I could take courses at Le Cordon Bleu and change my career from high school English teacher to master chef!

As I rode home today on the train from Paris, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to learn how to flay a fish?” Or, “How much fun would it be to be able to cook all day and bring my food home to C. for dinner each night?” And, “Wouldn’t learning how to cook from the best chefs in Paris be such a wonderful opportunity that I could tell my children and grandchildren about for years to come?”

I knew I had to do it. I felt like being a student at Le Cordon Bleu with my stiff apron and herringbone pants was my destiny.

So I decided to try out my “future” career tonight, and to try to wow C. with my cooking expertise so much that he’d be compelled to agree that, yes, we should stay in Paris for another few months, heck, years so that I could realize my dream of becoming a chef

So today, I arrived home to two frozen duck legs. 

But, first, a little back-story. The other day, C. and I bought two duck legs at the market. I realize now that it wasn’t the best idea—it was an impulse buy, but I was awed by the different types of meat at the market and, emboldened by my past cooking successes and the book that I’m reading, I just had to buy something that I had never made before in my life.

And, like the duck legs I bought, I froze as soon as I took them out of the fridge. 

Who was I kidding? I had no idea how to cook duck leg.

I thumbed through my cooking books, but none of them had any recipes for how to cook duck leg without an oven (yes, our apartment has no oven. Only two burners on our electric stove, and a microwave). 

But, still feeling confident, I was not to be deterred. I sauteed some onions and garlic in a pan with some olive oil. And, while that was simmering, I cleaned the still-frozen duck legs and then patted them with some herbs. Then, I added the duck to the pot with some carrots and mushrooms, put in some chicken stock, and then covered the pot. Voila! 

I stood in the kitchen watching the pot while also making a green bean and tomato salad for about 20 minutes, but then….my mind began to wander and I began to get bored. 

I went into the living room to check my email, lost track of the time, and only realized how long it had been when I smelled the gritty smell of burnt duck and vegetables. 

I ran into the kitchen, but by then, it was way too late. The meal was ruined. 

C. (always a good sport) ate the burnt duck and vegetables with a smile on his face, but as I sat across from him, I couldn’t seem to muster a smile. I felt like a complete failure. All of my cooking dreams seemed to crash down on that plate of charred duck fat and blanched carrots. 

But as I later scrubbed the pot (which I’m not sure will ever get clean), I tried to think positively. All chefs must burn their main dish at some point. Maybe it is a chef’s rite of passage. After all, the way you learn is by making mistakes, right? 

But, then again, I’m not so sure a duck-burning type of girl like me is really cut out for the Cordon Bleu after all. I think I’ll leave the fish flaying for someone else, and for the next few months in France, enjoy the eating instead of the cooking.

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