Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Duck and Cover

Photos by Cynthia

After days of torrential rain the monsoons let up and I could finally fire up the grill for the duck I had waiting patiently in the fridge.

I'm still experimenting with how best to get smoke from the new gas grill. The old, beloved grill - a generous gift from my brother - was a hybrid: it was a three-burner gas grill with an adjustable basket above the burners for holding charcoal and/or wood chunks and chips. As a gas grill it never got very hot but it would light the coals in record time, and as a slow-roaster or smoker it could keep relatively consistent heat over hours of cooking.

That old favorite, alas, endured one monsoon too many. After replacing many internal parts, proving the adage that rust never sleeps, all the innards eventually collapsed into a rusty heap, and to my dismay I discovered that the grill model was discontinued.

Overall I prefer grilling over chunk charcoal, and we maintain a classic Weber kettle, but there is no beating the convenience of flipping on the gas for quickly searing a steak, or the ease in maintaining a constant low temperature for hours on end.

With nothing remotely like it in our price range, we considered getting a cheap "disposable" gas grill and a low-end smoker,but that just seemed like bad economics. We settled on a modest but reasonably well-made, straight forward gas grill.

I'm still exploring the best way to inject smoke into the cooking equation. With past grills I have had bad luck with foil logs and cast-iron smoker boxes to hold wood chips. Either they just never got hot enough to produce much smoke, or they turned into little infernos that flared up and, even when set up for indirect cooking, could char the meat and upset the cooking temperature. I usually ended up just throwing wood chunks or chips right onto the burner. It usually works well (depending on the burner) but the resulting acidic ashes greatly shorten the life of the grill.

In my current set up, the grill has three burners covered with angles steel deflector plates. I've removed the deflectors from the two left burners and placed a cast-iron smoker box balanced right on top of those two burners. filled with a big chunk of hickory and some soaked cherry wood chips, the box gets enough heat to generate decent smoke.

Here we have our patient duck perched on a beer-can stand (minus the can). The duck has been rinsed inside and out, pat dried. The skin has been pierced all over (being careful not to puncture the flesh) and rubbed all over with sea salt, ground ginger and garam masala. The duck is positioned over the third burner on the right, with the smoker box on the right burners.

The two left burners will be turned on about 3/4 high. The right burner will not be used unless you want a re-enactment of the Pillar of Fire.

Close the cover and walk away. If your grill cover has a reliable thermometer, check the temperature periodically and adjust to maintain between 300 and 350 degrees. Rotate the duck 180ยบ every 45 minutes.

Two and a half hours later, it looked like this:

It smelled unbelievable.

We served it with ginger rice and a make-shift plum sauce.

The plum sauce was made from halved red and black plums with skin left on and simmered in water with ground ginger and honey. When the plums were soft the mixture was pureed with a hand blender and strained back into the pot to reduce. We adjusted seasonings right before serving.

The plum sauce was lackluster.

But the duck was worth waiting for.


  1. I just love duck. Your duck looks really juicy. Now, I'm craving for it.

  2. Grill him up! Looks like it was worth it.