It's nice having a boyfriend who's a gourmet cook and all, but it makes a girl lazy. I used to experiment in the kitchen all the time, but now I tend to surrender that room to Boyfriend 24/7 because he's so good.
Ever since I started hunting, though, I've felt bad about that. Here I was bringing home all this great game meat, and I wasn't exploring what it could do.
But Boyfriend's gone on two out-of-town trips in the past few weeks, and that's been all the opportunity I needed. You know what they say: While the cat's away, the mouse will play, and boy, did I play tonight.
The result? Mole Yolano de Pato - rich bits of Sacramento Valley duck (scaup from the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area) simmered in Mexico's most famous chili sauce and served over what can best be described as a thick, crisp-fried (but slightly soft) homemade tortilla.
Of course, if you know anything about Mexican cooking, you'll recognize that I didn't really dream up this dish all by myself, and I wasn't even that creative with the name. I just put a Yolo County duck (pato) twist on the classic Mole Poblano de Guajolote (which, roughly translated, means "sauce from Puebla with turkey"). Mole, in case you're wondering, is pronounced MOW-lay.
If you've never done serious Mexican cooking, this isn't really a starter dish for you. That photo above represents the culmination of about seven hours in the kitchen, divided over a few days.
But if you're one of those folks who's happy just to watch the cook - which is what I do most of the time - this post is for you. Or at least the pictures are - feel free to skip all those pesky words. Click on any of the photos to see more detail.
Step 1: Make mole ahead of time. It's a five-hour job that requires a plethora of ingredients that are really easy to find if you live in a community that has any Latinos at all in it. Latinos = Latin market. If you click on the images here, you'll see the recipe I follow, which comes from Diana Kennedy. Yes, it's really two pages.
Mole is often described as "that chocolate sauce," which is a grave injustice to a complex blend of dried chilis, nuts and spices. The chocolate is a small component, but an important one because chocolate and chili go together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It's magic, baby!
This particular mole I used tonight was made with turkey broth from the wild turkey I got in Napa this spring. And because I planned to use this sauce for many different dishes, I skipped the part about actually cooking turkey in it.
Step 2: Cut up and brown a duck. This here is a scaup I got hunting with my friend Dana on the last Wednesday of the season this year. Check out that crazy red meat!
Now, a lot of people don't care for the meat of this diver duck, and I have to admit when my boyfriend first served me scaup cooked the way we do 90 percent of our ducks - roasted - I was taken aback. Very ... strong.
That's why mole was perfect for this duck. It would transform the meat into something greater.
I removed the legs and wings, cut off the breasts (with skin), and set aside the carcass for broth. The legs and wings I left whole, but I cut the breasts in three big chunks each, keeping the fat on them for flavor, and I sliced any surplus fat into big chunks. All of this went fat side down into a hot frying pan with just a bit of oil, spattering vigorously as it browned.
Step 3: Chop the browned meat. I removed the meat, let it cool very briefly, then began slicing it into small bits about the size of a man's thumbnail, taking care to keep fat attached to the meat where possible. I kept the legs and wings whole.
You'll notice that some of the meat here is still quite rare. That's fine - it's going to cook more in the sauce.
Step 4: Remove mole from the refrigerator. This isn't really a big step, but I needed an excuse to include this picture of what refrigerated mole looks like. It's quite stiff.
But don't even think about diluting it unless you have to. That stiffness is just the cold fat. Once it hits the heat, it will...
Step 5: Simmer the duck in the mole. This is pretty easy. Put a little oil in the pan and let it heat up. Add the chopped duck and fry it quickly. Then spoon in enough mole to cover the duck.
Stir it around to loosen it up, then set it on low heat to cook slowly. Check it once in a while to make sure it's not burning or sticking. Twenty minutes should do it.
Step 6: Make the fat tortillas. Making your own corn tortillas is actually pretty simple, and if you really want to give it a try, I recommend buying a Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless cookbook.
Suffice it to say I had some dough ready ahead of time, and all I did tonight was roll it into balls and press it into thick tortillas, then...
Step 7: Crispy-fry the tortillas in oil. Nuf said?
Step 8: Plate. Put a tortilla on a plate. Spoon some of the duck in mole onto the tortilla. Add some cilantro (coriander in leafy form, not the seeds). Salt it. Squeeze some lime over it.
Then sit there smellin' yourself about how great this came out, and dang, ain't it a shame Boyfriend isn't here to taste this? Guess it would've been nice if he were here after all.
© Holly A. Heyser 2008