In which I butcher a duck

In possession of a fatted duck at the Nerac market. Photo by Erika Hildegard Johnson

So today jet lag and the assault I’m lodging on my system with infusions of fat slammed into me like a TGV train.

Let me get this bit of self-pity out of the way first because I realize living in heaven for two weeks does not entitle me to much wallowing. Trying to go to sleep last night I felt like a kid the night before Christmas — except that I’d just had two days of Christmas. I was up late writing and was so wound up with excitement that sleep was impossible. I had another bout of car sickness on the way to the market this morning which did not leave me this time once I hit fresh air, and actually got worse through the morning.

The market at Nerac was so lovely though, I tried to ignore it as best I could, snapping photos and taking in the sights and sounds and smells of a Saturday market. We seemed to be the only Americans there. One friendly local man saw me taking photos and when I told him I was a ‘journaliste‘ by way of explanation, he told me with pride about the town.

Dominique Chapolard

When you think French market, this was quintessentially it. Berets, market baskets, kisses, bread, cheese, winter vegetables, and of course ducks and duck goods galore. Kate bought two great fat ducks which we retrieved after making our way to the far end of the market to see her dog Bacon’s family and back. Dominique Chapolard, a purveyor of all things pork, gave the puppy that was to grow to the giant farm dog Bacon, and wears the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a man under his superbe moustache.

After a stop for tea where where we people watched through the cafe window, duck stowed safely under the table, we drove back to Camont. Following a brief lie-down to try to quell my complaining stomach, we gathered in front of the fire for a lunch spread (I had duck soup, wonderful left over, with some cheese that I couldn’t resist) and dove right into the butchery lesson.

I watched the entire first butchery operation impressed and awed. I carefully hung back just enough that I may not have to get involved in the heavy work. Between my queasiness and complete and utter ignorance of the anatomy of a duck, and of meat in general for that matter, I did not feel at all confident in my ability. But Kate had more confidence than I, or at least has an awful lot of patience with rank beginners, because she handed me the knife for duck # 2 and put me to work.

Meet my duck. Photo by Erika Hildegard Johnson

I would need an awful lot more practice to ever manage this on my own at home — hacking into the carcass of this fowl was like driving blindfolded on a twisty new road. I don’t even know what it’s meant to look like when finished, so she laid out the completed pieces from the first duck to help guide me, and frequently guided me with her hand on my knife. Mustering as much physical strength as I could wring out of my puny self, I actually did a reasonably adequate job on the parts that I did. Though there was a certain animal smell in the kitchen I didn’t feel nearly as squeamish as I had feared I might.

We worked all afternoon on the two ducks, and took a break while Kate and Erika ran to get chicken feed before the farm store closed. The hard physical part over, Kate and the other student Sandra salted the duck pieces for tomorrow’s confit and deveined the  liver. The liver, seasoned with salt and pepper, went into a couple of terrine dishes and into a pan of water in the oven to bake. This is terrine de foie gras. I think we’re eating it tomoorrow.

All tired by now we bypassed a major dinner for another table spread with cheeses, bread, drinks, sausage, fruit, hummus, cornichons and rillete.We played musical chairs around the table, each taking a turn in front of the fire that Sandra’s husband kept tended for us.

I’m calling it an early night as we’re in the car at 8 tomorrow morning for the big Marche au Gras. Want to see me wrist deep in duck? Pictures are here.

Erika Hildegard Johnson
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3 responses to “In which I butcher a duck

  1. Your face says soooooooo much in this photo. This is just a wonderful shot of you and your trepidation with meat. I am happy to have played a small part in helping you on this wonderful and beautiful journey.

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