Last winter, four of us went out for dinner at a local restaurant known for all of the things restaurants want to be known for these days: locally-sourced food; a menu that is somewhat French/ somewhat Californian; veggies, cheeses, meat and fish with descriptions that include capitalized, proper noun-y, names. The menu items read more like someone’s contact list than things to eat.
Two of us decided on the duck entrée. Roast duck, pan-seared duck breast, duck confit – I tend to order duck when I find it on a menu. I’m no duck novice. When our entrees arrived, we started to enjoy our dishes. For the two duck-eaters though, it was more like we attempted to enjoy our dinner – as neither of us could successfully cut through what was obviously very undercooked duck.
Since the four of us go to this place fairly often, the restaurant manager knew us quite well. I motioned for her to come over and said, “This duck is pretty raw. It’s hard to cut, and frankly, I don’t think poultry should be served so raw.”
Mizz Manager seized the opportunity to set me straight and replied condescendingly, ”Duck is not poultry. It’s game, like venison. Game should not be overcooked. It should be done rare, to medium rare.”
Uh oh. While in lecture mode, she forgot about the service equation. We were the customers, and were, in fact, paying triple-digit-per-person-prices, with wine and tips.
She had me. Mental fists clenched, I was fully in the ring with her. “Did someone go out and hunt these ducks? I think they’re poultry. They lay eggs. They have two feet. They’ve got a beak-type thing going on for feeding. They’re covered in down-y, feathery stuff. They have more in common with hens and geese than they do with deer.”
I continued, paring things down for her. “This is a bird. It shouldn’t be served r-a-w. We can hardly cut it, because raw poultry is rubbery.” Out of courtesy to our friends, I chose to avoid the path leading to a cozy chat about salmonella.
Dug in, she refused to bring the duck back to the chef. We refused to let her hostility and zero common sense pollute our evening. Most things can be laughed about, and I tend to look for the humor in things. Afterwards, we simply retold the tale to our friends. I shared the story with the restaurant’s owners. We boycotted. Eventually, the manager was replaced, for lots of worthy reasons. At some point, we went back. Things were o.k. as long as Donald and Daisy were not on the menu.
Last week, we were invited to a birthday dinner at the same restaurant. Out came a duck entree. Much of it was undercooked. I quietly noted the plates of the guests up and down our end of the table. When the dinner plates were removed, uneaten, nearly-raw duck was sitting on most of them.
Here’s what the esteemed authority on American cuisine, Fannie Farmer, had to say about duck in 1918:
POULTRY includes all domestic birds suitable for food except pigeon and squab. Examples: chicken, fowl, turkey, duck, goose, etc. Game includes such birds and animals suitable for food as are pursued and taken in field and forest. Examples: quail, partridge, wild duck, plover, deer, etc.
Wiki’s definition aligns with Fannie’s:
Duck which has been farmed for slaughter and sale as meat is called poultry. Wild duck which has been killed by hunters from necessity, or by sporting shooters for enjoyment of the sport, is called game.
What do you think?