The quince were cooked tender and ready to be placed on top of dandelion greens and sprinkled with some gorgeous blue cheese and pistachios (from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, “Plenty“). The little potatoes were bathed in duck fat collected from our last roast duck dinner, ready to be popped into the oven. And we’d carefully decanted a 1963 port, a gift from my father-in-law who was visiting for the weekend, to serve after dinner.
And the ducks (they’d been so delicious a few weeks ago, perfectly pink inside with toasted brown skin we all fought over) were threaded onto the spit and set on the rotisserie so they’d be ready in just over an hour, giving us time to welcome our friends, chat a bit and eat our salad before tucking into the main course.
I’d set out some nuts and cheeses and my husband was whipping up a pre-party martini when I looked out the window to see smoke billowing out from the barbecue, rushing up the side of our house. We ran out and opened the grill hood, releasing flames that leaped fiercely about. The drip pans were blazing and the birds were aflame like marshmallows tended by bold kids at a campfire. I reached up, pulling away the grapevine that seemed to stretch toward the fire. My husband, smart man that he is, raced inside to get our trusty barbecue mitts (gift from my mother!).
He pulled the pans out and onto the ground (where are the beagles?!?) and, while the flames were still in full-fury, he yelled: “Go get two more ducks!” I raced back to Whole Foods, hoping they’d have some. It was 7:00, time for friends to arrive, and I was waiting for the butcher (if we can call the people behind the meat counter at WF “butchers”) who’d let me know if there were any more ducks in the back. My husband called to check in. “I’m waiting. If they don’t have any I can get these little Cornish game hens. They’d go well with orange sauce.” My mind was racing for a solution. If I got the little hens, should I wrap them in bacon? The butcher emerged with two ducks. Aaah. He hands them to me and I notice they feel a little…hard. “I think these are frozen. I need to cook them for friends who are coming to my house in about…six minutes ago. Do you have any others?” He assured me that they were just cold and, indeed, not frozen. I ran to check-out and got home as fast as I could.
One friend had arrived and caught me in crisis mode. (Damn!) I tried to appear calm as I unwrapped the birds to ready them, quickly, for the spit. The ducks were, indeed, frozen. I rinsed them under hot water but they remained so rock-hard that I couldn’t even pry the necks out of their icy cavities. We’d be eating at midnight if we tried to cook them. Now, our friends who’d traveled from the other side of town had arrived. Yikes! They suggested we order pizza. I considered it (it really would have been fine) as I also considered buying a couple of already roasted chickens. We popped open some Prosecco. What to do? We called the one friend who still hadn’t arrived and asked him to pick up two chickens for us to roast ourselves. We got them onto the rotisserie within minutes and all was in order. Aaah. Dinner was delightful (I was so happy to see our east-side friends!) and we finished up with a nice pear clafoutis. (We forgot to serve the lovely port.) We said our goodbyes and, while cleaning up, Henry and I raised a last glass, pleased as we were with ourselves for handling the crisis without burning down the house or picking up the phone to order in pizza.
The next morning we realized we had four ducks in the refrigerator. Two with blackened skin, two that were–now–perfectly thawed. We’ve been eating duck ever since; with left-over orange sauce the following night (with the beyond-amazing port at the end of the meal); last night, in summer rolls; and tonight in barley soup (made with duck stock, of course). Maybe banh mi tomorrow? And we made a gift of one roasted duck (along with some rendered fat) for our hero who delivered the chickens that saved the night!