Thursday, July 3, 2008

Scaup that's not just good, but damn good!

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.

Mole Yolano de Pato (Yolo County scaup in chili sauce)

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Nate said...

Reading your recipe blogs makes hungry. Well, at least I have this lasagna.

Native said...

My mouth is watering. Seriously! my mouth is watering!

I will pass this recipe along.

NorCal Cazadora said...

It's a labor of love, definitely. If you already know how to make mole, this is a great way to use it. And this just happened to be my best batch of mole ever.

And man, it was a great way to deal with the strong taste of scaup. It's not so much fishy, like some divers can be, but just really strong, and the mole matches it and makes it work.

My other option for that scaup was going to be to grind it up and make Chinese potstickers out of it, loaded with ginger and soy sauce, but I think this was a better choice.

Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors said...

I hate reading your posts about cooking Holly. I end up having to get the antic static wipes out to clean the drool off my screen.

Prof. Bonilla said...

Yummy!!! It impresses me how much you know about Mexican food. The mole looks absolutely wonderful, especially on top of a fresh duck. That tortilla at the bottom is perfect to just roll everything into a taco. (Sigh, now I am getting nostalgic about Mexican food...)

For the name, I would suggest: Mole "cazadora" sobre pato yolano. Yeah, the pato is still from Yolo, and the mole is yours. As good as the boyfriend is in the kitchen, I'm glad you got busy with this dish. :)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Mijo, I just knew you'd come up with a better name for this! Muchas smoochas!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Nice dish! Too bad I wasn't there to eat it. Ah well, we have more duckies and you have more mole. Nice to see my plating mania has begun to seep over to you as well...

Huntingwithjim said...

Oh my god that looks awesome.

Finspot said...

Very tasty looking. Glad you posted the D.K. recipe b/c ours is in storage. Might be time to try our hand at mole, but I'm afraid there's no scaup in the freezer. Will any duck do? Thanks for sharing!

NorCal Cazadora said...

I think you'd be safe using any bird in this recipe. Though the sauce has a really strong personality, the flavor of the scaup still came through, and I'm sure with any duck you'd still be able to tell it's duck. But if you have a strong-tasting duck, this would be a good use for it.

Email me if you need anything else from the Kennedy book - I can scan it and send.

A few pieces of advice on the mole:

1) If you can get it, use fresh-rendered lard, rather than the hydrogenated stuff that comes in tubs, like Crisco. Fresh tastes better, and it's liquid at room temperature, which means it's MUCH better for your arteries. Some carnicerias display it; mine doesn't, but I just went to the butcher counter and asked for it - "Manteca fresca?" - and the guy came back from the kitchen with a styrofoam cup full of it for me.

2) In this recipe, you do several batches of frying things in lard. My advice is to wipe out the pan between batches. I was frugally reusing the lard from the first batch of chili-frying, and that was overcooking little bits of chili and making the sauce taste a bit bitter. This time I just wiped out the pan and added fresh lard every time I did a new batch, and it worked much better.

3) Depending on what state you live in, some chilis have different names. Mulatos are consistently named, but and ancho in most states is often a pasilla in California, and a pasilla in most states is a negro in California. This recipe uses the "most states" names, so I have to translate now that I'm in California. (In fact, this recipe originally had the word "negro" scrawled next to pasilla when I first scanned it in and posted it here, but I erased it, because I didn't want anyone to think I was making a bizarre outdated racial reference.)

4. Definitely make it a day ahead of time. Like spaghetti sauce, it tastes MUCH BETTER when it sits for a while. And if it's your first time making it, the mole is stressful enough without having to put a finished product on the table.

5. If you're not making this to go with turkey, you don't HAVE to make the fresh turkey broth. You can really use any bird broth. Homemade is best, though, if you have it.

Good luck, and have fun! And wear an apron - it's messy :-).

Ken said...

Thanks, Holly, for jogging an old man's memory. I have a mole story that I'd forgotten aboutinvolving a huge turkey that didn't feel like having his head chopped off that day. I'll put the story on the blog soonest. Meanwhile, we'll see you in December.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Ken, I can't wait to see that!

And Finspot, one more thing: Don't sweat that "try not to add more water thing" in the mole recipe. I always have to add more water than Kennedy says. It's no big deal - definitely not worth burning out a blender motor.

Blessed said...

This looks like an awesome recipe - I think I'll have to abandon my Cajun and good old Midwestern cooking techniques and start playing with Mexican food again... we both like Mexican food and my other attempts have come out well, I just get in a routine of cooking the same old way all the time!

Tom Sorenson said...

awesome - I finally got to experience TRUE Mexican food this last winter - we visited some friends of my wife and this gal had lived in Mexico for twenty years and married a Mexican man...she put the grub on the table and I'll admit to thinking, "Well, this doesn't look like any Mexican food I ever ate!" And it wasn't - man was it awesome! So good! I think it was the same thing as this only it was least that's what I think. It was served on actual homemade tortillas though - and the mole really topped it off.

Great White Hunter said...

I love mole! I grew up in Mexico, and there are so many nuanced variations from region to region, and even from village to village, that it makes your head spin. I'll never forget the Sundays when my dad -- a missionary -- would take the whole family with him to some church where he would preach. When the services were over, the whole congregation would stay for a huge meal. The women had been cooking all morning to get it ready, and it always, always included some mole, usually on chickens. There were homemade tortillas, beans, rice, all kinds of fruit, watermelons ... my mouth waters just thinking about it!