Flash in the Pan 

How to cook a lame duck

I’ve got this ritual I do when it’s time to celebrate some personal triumph or positive turn of events. I go downtown to Thai Spicy, order crispy duck, and ask them to make it extra-crispy. Duck meat is rich and decadent stuff; to crispy-fry it makes it even better. With a curry sauce on top, it’s cause for celebration in and of itself.

Since the midterm elections I’ve been thinking a lot about duck. One obvious reason is that the results put me in a celebratory mood, which of course sends my thoughts winging to crispy duck.

But there’s more. Ducks are flying around in my brain, a flurry of quacks and flaps, as if gathering for a big push south. The mass movement of ducks is indeed impressive, and perhaps it’s because ducks inhabit so many environments—multiple latitudes of air, water and land—that they inhabit so many nooks and crannies of our language.

Consider the well-worn inquiry into the nature of any suspiciously fart-like sound: “Did someone just step on a duck?”

Like an impromptu breaking of wind, ducks have a way of popping into our language like, well, a duck breaking the surface of a lake.

All I know is that ducks flying south for winter, their hyperactive wing muscles twitching in overdrive, are anything but lame. Yet somehow the phrase “lame duck” has become a common descriptor for politicians who’ve lost their bid for re-election and must return to their jobs to serve out their terms in a state of profound impotence. One can imagine that if a real duck turned up lame, it couldn’t join its brethren in the flight to greener pastures. A lame duck is a duck left behind, with little influence on the future of duckdom.

Conrad “yer doing a piss-poor job” Burns, and Virginia Sen. George “monkey man” Allen come to mind as good examples of particularly lame lame ducks who now face lonely returns to Washington, where they will pack their bags, have a lame December, and beat it.

It could also be argued that our commander in chief, George “bring ’em on” Bush, is now a lame duck too. Although he did not lose a re-election bid, and thus can’t be technically considered a lame duck like his papa, losing both houses of Congress to the opposition party amounts to a pretty good wing-clipping. And even if he never admits that losing both houses of Congress was related to his lame performance in office, he’s nonetheless doomed to spend the next two years getting his shirt handed to him as the Democrats hopefully get to work sorting out the mess he’s created. And since we can’t officially call GW a lame duck, I guess we’ll have to substitute another four-letter word that rhymes with duck.

I was all set to hit Thai Spicy and eat some crispy duck to celebrate the humbling of George “that lame [rhymes with duck],” when I remembered that I actually had a duck of my own in the freezer. So I saved myself a trip and made some crispy lame duck myself.

With a mortar and pestle, I mashed together turmeric, cardamom, ginger, salt and fresh garlic. I added the juice of one lime, soy sauce and vinegar from a jar of pickled peppers. Then I washed the duck in vinegar, cut off the skin, cut the bird to pieces, rubbed it with the spices and left it to marinate overnight.

The next day I chopped ginger, lemon grass, dried chilies and galanga root and fried it all together in a cast iron skillet in a combination of canola oil and bacon grease. I added chunks of lime and sliced onion, zucchini and yams. Finally I added coconut milk and let the slow simmer begin.

Meanwhile, I put a splash of canola oil in a big wok and fried the duck skin in the oil until it was shriveled and crispy. At this point the wok contained more than a cup of duck fat (not to be confused with “duck butter”—see the online dictionary of urban slang).

I fried the duck pieces in the hot fat until they were brown and crispy, and then I put them on a platter, poured the coconut curry sauce all over it and garnished with lime and cilantro. It was ducking amazing.

Another duck expression worth mentioning is “duck soup.” Slang for something easy, like “piece of cake,” Duck Soup is also the title of a 1933 Marx Bros movie, whose plot has to do with the governor of the make-believe land of Freedonia contemplating war with neighboring Sylvania. The war against those who hate Freedonia was supposed to be duck soup—not unlike the duck soup predictions by Bush for his war on those who hate freedom.

But I couldn’t find any duck soup recipes I wanted to make. There was a Polish duck soup called Czarnina that involves adding the duck’s blood to the broth, but I wasn’t really into it. Maybe duck soup, like an easy war, is a bloody myth.

That’s why I prefer my lame ducks fried to a crisp.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: How GMO can you go?

Q: Dear CBA,

Is genetically engineered food really as bad for you as some people say, or is this all just a paranoid counter-conspiracy?
—Curious Gene

A: Dear Gene,

That’s a huge question. There’s plenty of research out there to verify or refute the many supposed dangers and effects of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. While many of the worst-case scenarios are, at this point, hypothetical, there are documented instances of modified genes “escaping” into the wild and mixing with natural genes in non-GMO organisms. That, to my mind, is strong evidence that such genetic modifications are simply not containable, and that worst-case scenarios will become more likely the more this technology is used.

That said, I think the real issue lies a little further below the surface. You’ve heard me say it before, but here it is again: corporate control of the food system is the real threat. When control of the world’s food supply is concentrated in the hands of a few profit-driven mega-corporations, then the door is open for all kinds of mega-problems. Despite altruistic claims about their efficacy in feeding the world’s poor, the real advantage of GMOs is as a tool to feed the developing company’s bottom line. World hunger, it’s been known for decades, is more a distribution problem than a production problem.

But this is just a partial response to an enormous question. If you want to learn more, from a clearly anti-GMO yet soundly acclaimed source, check out Jeffrey Smith, the author of Seeds of Deception, when he speaks at the North Underground lecture hall on the UM campus on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.

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