It’s a disappointment and a major inconvenience when the everyday becomes grotesque, seemingly without reason. I’ve been feeling this way about chicken lately, but I can’t really say that the development was sudden. As the most-consumed meat in a country where meat is the default, chicken often appears in front of me without me ever having made the choice. Most common Cup of Noodles? Cheapest option at Chipotle? Thing I’m most likely to pick up at the grocery store when I arrive in a fugue state? The answer is always chicken, but it’s not such a satisfying one.
Everything that is supposedly so great about chicken from the relative affordability (if you don’t calculate the environmental costs) and how reliably it cooks up becomes null and void if your stomach sinks at the thought of biting into another seasoned and baked thigh or mouthful of woody shredded breast. If you too have grown chicken weary but are still poultry curious, I have a solution for you: duck.
Duck has a reputation for being fancy, I believe, because people mostly eat it at restaurants, but ever since the pandemic started diverting restaurant-quality meats to more grocery stores, I’m finding duck in more places than ever before. It’s definitely more expensive than chicken, priced more comparably to beef at around $15-$25 a pound, but chicken can be disturbingly cheap in a way that adds to its grossness. Like, maybe a package of meat procured from several different animals that were raised for six to 12 weeks (it’s really that short!) should cost more than eggs. But I digress.
Simply, duck tastes better than chicken. It actually tastes better than most meats as long as you favor flavor. It doesn’t even have to be in a falling off the bone confit — a perfectly seared duck breast, with a crispy layer of skin and cooked until medium rare is better than any steak, and the perfect thing to serve any time you are drinking really good red wine.
And the combination of wine and duck is a thing, and not just because France produces a lot of both. One of the first dining secrets I learned about New York was that sommeliers would gather at Peking Duck House and bring really awesome bottles of wine (and sometimes their own glassware) to take advantage of its BYOB policy and the excellent roast duck, which benefits from the dark fruit and tannin of a Northern Rhone syrah as graciously as it does with a vintage Rose Champagne.
While vacuum-sealed duck breasts priced similarly to steaks have become more ubiquitous, you can save a lot of money by carving a whole duck up yourself — a surprisingly easy task that can be accomplished under the tutelage of Youtube. Not only do you pay the whole-bird rate, you get the whole bird, which means a bunch of skin to render for fat, in which you can confit the legs. It sounds like a lot of work but breaking down a whole duck is a great way to spend a day indoors, I swear.
If you’re like me and have decided to keep eating meat in this weird moment where everything is about to collapse, you would really like duck. Although I’m not ready to commit to a plant-based life, at the very least I can try to make the choices I’m most capable of enjoying instead of suffering through bad, boring meat as a habit.