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Boning Duck Breasts


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#1 Matthew Kayahara

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 03:50 PM

I'm planning on making duck confit soon, but I can't get duck legs on their own around here. So I thought I'd buy three ducks, remove the legs for confit, bone the breasts for other uses, and make stock from the remainder. (I have a recipe for duck breasts with calvados sauce that I've been dying to try for ages.)

Only, I don't know how to bone a duck breast.

Can someone out there help me? Do I need a boning knife? If not, would a chef's knife (my 8" Global) or a paring knife be better? Is it easier to break down the duck first and then bone out the breasts, or should I remove the breasts from the whole duck? Anything else I need to know?

Thanks in advance!
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#2 James

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 04:06 PM

Either way. If you want the breasts right away you can fillet them from the bone, like a fish or chicken, but a boning knife would be better because it is thin and flexible.

With your two knives, sharpened and honed, you could start with the legs/thighs, remove the back, neck, and wings, leaving the breast.

The breast can then be flattened (splatched) and prepared on the bone, or the breasts can be removed, mostly with the sharp small knife.
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#3 Matthew Kayahara

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 04:17 PM

Thanks. I should add that I've never boned a chicken breast either, so I'm really working from nothing here. Is it just a question of slicing through the breast, keeping the knife parallel with the breastbone and ribs? I sort of assume that, on my first attempt, I'm going to end up with some ragged breasts and a fair bit of leftover meat on the bones. By the end of the third duck, though, I'm hoping I'll be pretty proficient.

Follow-up dumb question: Is there a fundamental difference between a fish filleting knife and a boning knife? Every time I've looked at knives in the store, they seem to have both. Can I get one and use it for both purposes? After all, they're both long, thin, flexible knives, right?

Edited by Matthew Kayahara, 19 October 2006 - 04:18 PM.

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#4 James

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 04:40 PM

Matt, there is no reason a boning knife (thin, flexible, sharp) will not work on fish. Fish filleting knives I've seen seem to be more oriented to sportsm :blush: (make that) sportspersons, as in 'hunting knives'.

There is a good line of knives from N.S., some sold by Lee Valley. (Grohmann).



Most chicken breasts can be pulled from the bone with your fingers. You could practice on one, then do the other side with a knife, before you get the ducks.
The ducks are tougher, with a lot more sinew connecting breast to bone, so they definitely need a small, sharp knife. Don't slice through the breast, but instead start at one corner, probably the neck end, and grab the meat with your other hand, in order to keep a pulling pressure at the bone (where the other hand is cutting). If you start with short strokes, there won't be much raggedness or waste, just a bit at the edges.

It's hard to describe this verbally, just as it is hard (I mean really hard) for me to learn how to upload photos here!
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#5 Matthew Kayahara

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 07:03 PM

Thanks, James. I think I see what you're getting at, though it is hard to be sure just from a written description. If you could post photos, that would help a lot. In the meantime:

Shopping list:
-One practice chicken
-Three ducks

Hey, wanna meet me over in the kitchen tools thread for a discussion on these knives? :P
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"A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion."
-Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

#6 Guest_boar_d_laze_*

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 07:12 PM

It helps to use knives that are truly sharp.* Your chef's knife is a little wide for filleting. Depending on its length, your paring knife is probably a litle too short for an elegant table carving. You don't need flexibility for breaking down a raw bird, and we ain't talkin' table -- so no excuse to buy new knives.

The easiest way to do this is rest the duck on its back, take the duck by the leg with your left hand and lift and pull gently so the weight of the duck shows the separation between thigh and body. Make shallow cuts, with very little pressure, and run a small chef's knife into the separation, cutting through the skin. The weight of the duck will continue to pull the thigh from the body, showing you where to cut. When you can see the ball joint holding the thigh to the body, put down your knife and fold the thigh as far as you can from the body. That should partly separate the ball from the socket.

If the ball and socket separate cleanly cut between them with your chef's knife and separate the thigh from the body by cutting through the skin where it joins the back. It's likely they will not break cleanly but still be held together by tendon. If they do not break cleanly, you'll find it easiest to change knives and use your parer to cut through the tendon, then part cut and part pry the ball from the socket while using your offhand to enhance the separation.

When both leg and thighs are removed, run your parer, just to one side of the duck's keelbone, along the length of the duck, cutting through the skin cleanly. Open the incision with your offhand, pulling the breast away from the carcass, and, using light pressure with your knife-hand run the parer between the duck's carcass and the meat making shallow cuts. The "wish-bone" may stick into the breast. If so, make an incision along the bone and bend the meat away so that you can see about 1/2", then use the side of your blade to scrape the wishbone free.* Continue using your offhand to pull the breast away from the duck and continue making shallow cuts. Once you've got it started, you can pretty much pull the breast away from the carcass without using the knife -- until you get to the wing.

Like the thigh, the wing is attached to the duck at its back by a ball and socket joint. Once you've removed as much of the breast around the wing from the carcass as you can -- you probably still won't be able to see the joint. Nevertheless, put your knife down and using both hands, bend the wing back until you either feel the joint break -- or at least, have a very good idea of where it's located. Pick up your knife and using your off hand to hold the wing and get some separation from the carcass run the knife along the carcass to the wing joint. Use the tip to get into the joint and dissect the joint. Cut the breast off the carcass, with the wing still attached, when you run out of meat. You'll know by feel.

Lay the breast skin side down on the board so you can see where the wing bone joins the breast and remove the wing from the breast, cutting away as little meat as possible. Save the wings and tendons for soup.

With the chicken, do the same, but don't remove the wing. Cut the wing at the second joint between the part with two bones and the "drumette." Holding your parer at an angle to the meat, cut and scrape the wing meat towards the breast. Whatever won't push cleanly, or looks ragged, trim off. Mazel tov. You've "frenched" a chicken breast. Very fancy. You can make Kiev or Maryland.

To separate the chicken thigh from the leg, hold the leg so the point of the "V" where leg and thigh are joined is down on the board, and make shallow cuts into the V so the weight of the thigh gently opens the angle. The joint will quickly reveal itself. Bend the thigh and leg so the joint breaks open then cut into the separation with your knife, cutting all the way through the skin.

Normally, when breaking down a chicken you'll remove the wing in the same way you took off the leg and thigh. That is, taking it and a little bit of breast meat with it, before filleting the breast. The difference is that the chicken wing is a valued piece on its own so you don't mind taking a little breast with it, while the duck wing is fodder for the stock pot.

Who knew?
Rich

*Scraping poulty bones, especially with a sharp knife, can leave small splinters of bone in the meat. Use your finger tips to feel for any splinters and remove them with the point of your knife.

Edited by boar_d_laze, 20 October 2006 - 07:50 PM.


#7 Guest_pixelchef_*

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 01:05 AM

Rich,

Another phenomenal post! Your contributions here really help enrichen the content. You're our monté au beurre. ;)

I actually printed that post. Thanks for another great one! I'm learning, and I like it!

#8 Guest_boar_d_laze_*

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 09:25 AM

Thanks Pixelchef. If you guys remind me when it gets a little closer to Thanksgiving I'll write a detailed post about carving a turkey in the kitchen for a platter (best), or carving it at tableside (decidedly unbest).

Rich

#9 Matthew Kayahara

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 07:37 AM

Thanks for an excellent post, Rich. I haven't yet managed to track down any ducks in my vicinity - make that dead, plucked ducks; there are plenty of live ones - but as soon as I do, I'll print out your instructions and see what I can do. If I'm feeling adventurous, I may even document the process with my camera!
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"A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion."
-Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

#10 Matthew Kayahara

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 10:08 AM

Just an update on my ducks. I finally found frozen ducks, so I thawed them and spent the day yesterday cutting them up. Rich, your instructions could not have been clearer. Thanks so much! I'm sure the breasts ended up a little more ragged than they should be, but practice will take care of that.

I found working around the wishbone to be the hardest part of removing the breasts. Also, I really appreciate the emphasis you put on the role of tendons in the joints. I always used to think I was cutting through the joint itself, but dislocating the joints and cutting through the tendons was a lot easier.

My talented and loving husband took beautiful photos of the whole process (I made him wait until the third duck, so I had had some practice first). I've put up a public gallery with those photos; would there be value in me posting them to this thread? Or does everyone know how to view members' galleries?

Altogether, my three ducks yielded six boned breasts (in the freezer awaiting future dinners), six legs (in the oven "confit-ing" as I type), a couple of cups of rendered fat (helping the legs confit, along with the commercial duck fat I brought back from my last trip to Montreal and some lard, since I didn't have quite enough fat to cover), and six litres or so of dark duck stock. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with the stock, but I think dinner tonight will be roasted beet risotto.
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"A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion."
-Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

#11 Marlene

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 10:16 AM

I think there would be a lot of value in posting your photos to this thread. That way, it makes for easier viewing and context without having to flip back and forth between the gallery!
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#12 Matthew Kayahara

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 10:33 AM

Alrighty, then. Here we go!

We begin with a whole duck:

Posted Image

First, we separate and remove the legs:

Posted Image

This is the ball-and-socket joint (in the lower right-hand quadrant of the photo):

Posted Image

After both legs are gone, we remove the breasts:

Posted Image

Posted Image

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(In that last image, you can see my printout of Rich's instructions!)

Breast, removed but with wing still attached:

Posted Image

And finally, duck breast, ready to cook:

Posted Image

Edited by Matthew Kayahara, 30 October 2006 - 10:34 AM.

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"A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion."
-Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

#13 Guest_boar_d_laze_*

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 11:46 AM

Bravo! I'm proud of you. You did a great job.

Rich

ON EDIT -- MATTHEW, I HADN'T read your previous post before posting my response to your post with the series of pics. From the photos it appears you did a fantastic job. If you want slightly cleaner look to the undersides to the breasts you have to use your knife a little less and your offhand a little more. Look at your fourth and fifth pictures. In the fourth picture you've got your left thumb barely inside the breast, preparing to use the knife to scrape along the ribs as shown in your fifth picture. Next time, instead of going to the knife so quickly use your hands to tear the breast meat off the bone -- going to the knife as "last resort" at the wich bone, and when you near the wing joint. That will even out the breasts' undersides as much as they can be evened out.

However, in a restaurant kitchen you'd use whichever technique was quickest for you. The underside is never the presentation side, and even if it were, those shallow incisions "heal" pretty well during the cooking process -- as I'm sure you noticed during the cooking.

Try the more manual process with pre-packed chicken breasts sold "ribs in." You'll find that you only need the knife to separate the breast from the keel, and that once you can get a finger between the meat and the ribs, you can do the rest of the filleting without the knife. Chicken are more commonly used and much less expensive, the techniques are the same and the feel similar.

-R

Edited by boar_d_laze, 30 October 2006 - 12:13 PM.


#14 Dianne

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 02:11 PM

Beautiful job,Matthew.

#15 Marlene

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Posted 30 October 2006 - 03:52 PM

very nicely done, especially for a first attempt! You did better than I'd probably do first time around!
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#16 Guest_pixelchef_*

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 12:17 PM

Matthew: gorgeous job. I too, am proud of you.

boar: phenomenal advice.

Y'all give me warm fuzzies -- being all helpful and stuff. :)

#17 Matthew Kayahara

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 03:26 PM

Thanks to everyone for your kind words. Honestly, given the level of detail in Rich's instructions, it would have taken some serious effort on my part for it to go horribly wrong. That said, it seems clear that I still have much to learn...
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"A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion."
-Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking




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