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Pressed Duck: A Photo Diary

September 2nd, 2009 · 27 Comments · Pressed Duck

 posted by Nastassia Lopez

Dave, the duck press, and the ducks.

Dave, the duck press, and the ducks.

In the library of The FCI there lives an ancient, rarely utilized duck press.  It sits on a block of wood—trophy style—and as Chef Jeremiah pointed out, “There are only two things missing on it: a basketball and a name plate.”

Traditionally, pressed duck is prepared like this: The duck is strangled so as to retain as much blood as possible. The legs are cut from the rest of the body, and thinly sliced pieces of the breast are cooked in a sauce of reduced Madeira, butter, and cognac. The rest of the carcass is partially cooked for 25-30 minutes and placed in a duck press, and the waiter screws the metal disc down to extract the liquids and marrow from the duck, onto the cooked breasts.

Dave had successfully pressed duck before but found it a tad too overcooked. He decided to give it another try, but this time using a modern technique—specifically low temperature cooking—that would give him more control over the temperature of the meat. Thus began the Great Duck Pressing Adventure.

The Pressed Duck Recipe we used from The New LaRousse Gastronomique. It's in French. None of us speak French.

The pressed duck recipe we used from The Larousse Gastronomique. It's in French. None of us speak French.

We put our heads together and did our best to translate the recipe which we’re pretty confident said this:

Roast two beautiful ducks (that have been suffocated) on high heat for 25-30 minutes. Reduce Madeira, cognac, and lemon in a pan. When the duck is finished, disassemble and crush the carcass in a duck press to extract blood and other juices.  Over high heat, reduce duck blood, foie gras, and butter. Add in the Madeira reduction.  Grill the duck breasts to desired doneness and dress with the finished sauce.

The ducks; plucked and ready to be squeezed.

The beautiful ducks; plucked, cleaned and waiting to be cooked and squeezed.

Chef Mark carved off the breasts on each duck before putting the rest of their carcasses in the oven.

Chef Nick carved off the breasts on each duck before putting the rest of their carcasses in the oven.

Dave vacuum sealed the duck breasts in bags.

Dave vacuum sealed the duck breasts in bags. We were all still smiling at this point.

He placed the breasts in a water bath for 30 minutes at 67 C.

He placed the breasts in a water bath for 30 minutes at 57 C.

The Madeira and cognac, reducing.

The Madeira and cognac, reducing.

In the middle of everything, Dave decided to see what happens when you boil broccoli for an hour. This is where the night really began.

In the middle of everything, Dave decided to see if broccoli would still be green if you boil it for an hour. This is when the night really began.

The cooked duck carcasses.

The cooked duck carcasses.

We filled pieces of duck into the container.  It was gory.

We cut the duck and filled the pieces in the press's container. It was gory.

I pressed first. Note the laughing and smiling still going on.

I pressed first. Note the laughing and smiling still going on.

But my pressing was too whimpy for Dave, so he got in there and really pressed.

But my pressing was too wimpy for Dave, so he got in there and really pressed.

And when Dave was too tired, Nils got in there and gave the press the old Viking Death Grip.

And when Dave was too tired, Nils would give the press the old Viking Death Grip.

Check out all of the liquid we were able to extract.

Check out all of the liquid we were able to extract.

Now, in the middle of all the pressing, we noticed that a piece of the press’s metal had started to contract on one of the legs, while the large screw, which ratchets the disc down into the container, had slightly bent the lower disc. 

I think it went something like this: "But Dave, it's breaking." Dave: "Just put more duck in."

I think this scene went something like this: "But Dave, it's breaking." Dave: "Just put more duck in."

Eventually we stopped, and Dave surveyed the damage.

Eventually we stopped, and Dave surveyed the damage.

We started to cook the breasts, and reduce the blood with the butter and foie gras.

We started to sear the breasts, and combine the extracted duck juices, butter and foie gras with the Madeira/Cognac reduction...

While Dave started to deconstruct the duck press and bend the metal back.

...while Dave started to deconstruct the duck press and bend the metal back into place.

When the breasts were finished, Nils carved them.

When the breasts were finished, Nils carved them.

Nils tasted the duck. Not a happy look.

Nils tasted the duck. Not a happy look.

Nils ran.

Nils ran.

Nils spit.

Nils spit.

The duck wasn’t good.  We all agreed that the sauce was very flavorful though.

Dave kept working on fixing the press...

Dave kept working on fixing the press...

...until he got it right back to its old, magnificent state.

...until he got it right back to its old, magnificent state.

What happened to the broccoli you ask?  After boiling for the entire hour we spent crushing, reducing, carving and fixing things, we drained the little floret and set it in ice water.  It was still green.

Still green.

Still green.

But why was our fowl so foul? We know that Dave has successfully pressed duck in the traditional manner, however, we have two theories on why this duck was a flop. 

1. We think there may have been too much stress on the ducks when they died, and/or they were slaughtered improperly, somehow damaging the meat,and ultimately making it tough.

2.  Perhaps pressed duck is simply supposed  to be overcooked and that low temp cooking is not the way to go on a very traditional French dish.

And sometimes you just can’t mess with tradition.

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • AJ

    guess this means a “research trip” to the Silver Tower would be in order!

  • craig thornton

    my first thought was the ducks had too much stress as well, not a very good way to go, i would rather them be killed more quickly than to suffer for some extra blood.

  • jstone

    evidence… i mean pictures came out great of dave fixing/breaking/fixing the press

  • chad

    This is a strange experiment. Seems a lot of elbow grease and mess for un-exciting results. The whole post does, however, leave me with a couple of thoughts…

    It’s hard to imagine that ducks wouldn’t be stressed when being strangled to death.

    It’s hard to imagine that no one at the French Culinary Institute speaks French (that’s funny).

    Could this be called ‘compression?’

    I love it that Dave always takes things to extremes… whether shaking a cocktail or draining the living essence out of fowl.

    • Dave A

      HaHa.
      Hi Chad,
      We have many chefs who speak French. We didn’t have any there at the time. I would say it was some serious compression. Cheapo thousand-dollar french press….

  • David

    Pan-searing in the “traditional” way doesn’t have to result in overcooking, does it?

    • Dave A

      The traditional recipe calls for a quick roast at high heat on a small duck. It is possible not to overcook it at this step, but the next step is to slice the breast very thinly and heat it in the sauce –invariably overcooking it (by our standards). I think that this type of duck just ain’t so good medium rare.

  • Patricio Wise

    ??? 67°F sous-vide duck not good? weird… I would incline towards the bad-slaughtering….

    • Dave A

      Patricio,
      Sorry. The post should have read 57. This duck was no good at medium rare. I haven’t done any other tests with rare un-bled meat. The unbled striped bass in our ike-jime tests, however, tasted awful raw but not as bad cooked. Maybe there is a pattern?

  • Paul A.

    In what way was the duck nondelicious?

    Who strangled it?

    • Dave A

      Both the taste and the texture were bad compared to the ducks we normally cook as well as to the pressed duck we cooked traditionally before. I cannot reveal who strangled the duck. They asked us not to. Wasn’t us.

  • Harrythebrooklynkitchen

    It’s tough to get a good sear in a Non-stick pan.

  • jk

    I did not heard of strangling ducks before. I am not sure I want my duck to be strangled. Gently force fed, I am somewhat fine with that, strangled? Not so sure.

  • Darren Teoh

    Did some reading and bumped into this blog about the pressed duck, at the La Tour D’Argent. Writer said it tasted good, but the pictures of the dish is for a lack of a better word unappetizing, a thick blackish gunk that covered the duck. Duck was cooked medium rare and warmed only by the sauce.

    What happens to the meat of a strangled duck…?

  • asbel reyes

    when you say the duck wasnt good. do you mean texture or taste. i have always preferred duck in a pan over sous vide, the duck seems too get to chalky and grainy in the bags. duck is very finicky after its cooked. serve to warm and its mushy serve to cold and its grainy. also what breed was it?

    • Dave A

      Howdy Asbel,
      Normally, we do duck sous-vide at 57 (sometimes 58 for tough breeds) for 45 minutes, then let it cool, and sear off the skin as per normal. This is more sous-vide to insure the center of the breast is exactly where we want it. We love the results. Duck cooked a lot longer than that goes liver-y and loses its nice color. I think the bloody duck should be served more on the medium side. One of the ducks was Pekin. Don’t know about the other.

  • asbel reyes

    oh and 67 c seems a bit high, is that a temp that you prefer for duck?

  • slkinsey

    I don’t understand the whole “strangling” thing or why it would have to lead to extra stress versus decapitation. Not to bee too graphic, but I’ve heard plenty of stories about how my grandparents would kill fowl back in the early 20th century: You reach down, grab yourself a chicken or duck by the head, swing it around a few times in a circle to completely break the spine, done. Now you have a dead duck or chicken, and it certainly didn’t take any longer than it would to chop its head off or slit its throat. At this point, if you want to bleed it, you hang it up, snip the head off and bleed it out. For the purposes of pressed duck, you wouldn’t bleed it out.

  • david

    what’s all this non-sense about stressed ducks?

    there might be a tiny difference in texture from a stressful death to a very peaceful one,but to think that meat or fish becomes inedible as a result of stress is rather silly,
    ducks are killed the very same way in most “abattoirs” yet you can still savour great magrets, livers, confits all over the world.

    we just have to accept that not every meat is meant to be vaccum poached, that’s why cooking is exciting!

  • Adam

    been cooking ducks( both magret and pekin) sous vide for a few years now, results have been great even at a lower temp. I agree that too long results in poor texture and a liverish taste but i think that is common among most meats cooked sous vide ( the texture part) to medium rare. I can only imagine that not bleeding results in poor taste, and stress results in bad texture; are there any meats that are meant to be eaten before being bled?

  • erik

    We do a Canard Presse at my restaurant. It is quite popular! We prick the skin and poach the whole duck in boiling h20 for 1 min. Then let the skin dry and form a pellacle overnight. We roast it after letting it come to room temp, to rare on the breasts. The duck is presented, then brought back to the kitchen where the breasts are removed, the legs are put back in the oven, and the carcass and liver is put in the can of the press. A server presses the carcass in to a small copper pot and that is brought back to the kitchen where I make a sauce. I emulsify foie gras in to it and pass it through a chinois, finish it with salt, pepper, vinegar….the vinegar and foie take the place of butter and wine/liquor. It is served in 2 courses. Our ducks still retain enough blood to make the traditional sauce au sang. Delicious!

  • David Soohoo

    I think the technique is simply not the best…should marinate, roast for caramelization, and then slice off hindquarters and breasts…make the sauce using the blood to thicken duck stock, wine, red currant jelly, et cetera for great tasting sauce…
    cooking in bag does not create great flavors…

  • Kevin Power

    It’s hard to believe that this method of butchering an animal is considered Haute Cuisine, when so many Europeans are against the Seal Hunt in Eastern Canada. Strangle or suffocate a Duck is acceptable and kill a seal is barbaric. double standard, no doubt.