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Food Matters: Duck Hunt

WINE AROUND THE WORLD CUP

In addition to chef Manuel Diaz’s Mexican-inspired duck dishes (duck confit tacos and pan-roasted duck breast, both with mole sauce) at Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant, sample wines from around the world. Superstar sommelier Greg Van Wagner has launched a special list honoring the 2017 Audi FIS World Cup Finals in Aspen, featuring each country represented in the races. Try Leitz Dragonstone Riesling from Germany; Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel from Austria; and Robert Gilliard Dôle des Monts from Switzerland, plus pours from Italy, France, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and more ($12 per glass).

DUCK: it's what's for dinner. And lunch. And brunch. And après-ski. Though the darker-meat fowl settles onto menus across town every winter, duck seems to have reached peak popularity this season in particular. Recently I've found at least 20 restaurants in Aspen and Snowmass serving the rich, versatile bird in classic, creative, and unexpected ways. Nothing daffy about that!

Most prominent might be the quintessential French preparation: duck confit—a style meaning, "cooked in its own fat." Duck leg confit is shredded and folded into luscious mac and cheese at the Monarch; scattered atop hearty salads at Meat & Cheese; simmered with white beans into Provençal cassoulet at Ricard Brasserie and Ajax Tavern; turned into a sophisticated "sloppy Joe" with arugula and fried shallots at the Artisan in Snowmass; served whole for DIY stuffing into steamed Asian bao buns at 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel; and flaunted in various forms on charcuterie boards and in

entrées elsewhere.

"We always have duck confit on the winter menu," says Cache Cache chef Nate King. Currently he serves crispy-skin duck leg with red cabbage braised with Tender Belly bacon and roasted duck bone broth, finished with honey. "It's a version back by guests' popular demand," King says. Little wonder.

Executive chef Jonathan Leichliter at Justice Snow's adores duck, too. "At first I thought people would complain about us not having a chicken entrée (on the menu)—but (they) haven't," he shares. "I do duck in the winter because it's so much heartier and richer."

Leichliter debones the breast, marinates it in orange zest, sweet spices, and chile powder, cooks it slowly sous-vide at 135 degrees, then sizzles it on the flat top. Fried duck leg confit joins the plate, along with creamy sunchoke purée, sunchoke chips, glazed bitter endive, and a sauce of reduced duck stock, white wine, melted leeks, and dates. The whole shebang is showered with "carrot-duck crumble" (crunchy duck skin pulverized with dehydrated carrots and shallots).

Before that, though, the sauce is finished with a spoonful of duck liver pâté—the only reason he makes the creamy spread now. "Some nights we'll sell 12, 16, 18 orders," he adds. "I think it's one of the best dishes I've ever done."

It's a handy example of a chef using the entire bird. Confit duck thighs go into a cult-classic Justice Snow's brunch dish: duck hash with Brussels sprouts leaves, caramelized onions, and sweet potatoes topped with poached eggs and Béarnaise sauce. A recent sous-chef special: house-made flatbread with roasted garlic purée, roasted butternut squash, Robiola cheese, and, of course, duck confit.

"I love the flavor—every single thing about it," says Leichliter, who began his duck affair in earnest here about four years ago. His first introduction, however? "Chinese restaurants."

Yes, Peking duck harks to Christmas in Chinese "palaces" across America, where the bird is roasted whole until its skin tightens to a glossy, golden sheen. Asian pancakes, fresh cucumber, and hoisin sauce make fine foils—which is how chef C. Barclay Dodge prepares his signature dish at Bosq. In fact, Dodge installed a special oven capable of roasting the birds to his exact specifications before he opened Bosq last June. (The duck also makes its way onto Dodge's nicely priced bar menu, inside steamed bao buns with pickled cucumber, herbs, red Fresno chiles, and hoisin sauce, for $5 apiece.)

Down Mill Street at Maru, chef Peter Coyne prepares Peking Duck Moo Shu, rolled in a savory, crêpe-like pancake with the usual suspects plus tempura asparagus. (Duck gyoza with plum ponzu is another bestseller.) And Main Street stalwart Asie has offered Peking duck since Chinese native Tai Ping "Charlie" Huang opened it in 2001.

Almost any cuisine can highlight duck. Chefs Club executive chef Todd Slossberg tweaks Mario Batali's Italian duck ragù over fresh pappardelle with red wine, port, and porcini. Caribou Club executive chef Miles Angelo tops ruby-red duck tartare with a glistening duck egg. French-born chef Sebastien Chamaret smokes duck breast to top haricots verts, arugula, candied walnuts, and black truffle vinaigrette at La Crêperie du Village. The Artisan executive chef Steven Sterritt creates the only Canadian version I've noticed: duck poutine skillet over sweet potatoes. (Similarly, Rustique Bistro chef Jeff Armstrong's occasional special tops sweet-potato gnocchi, spinach, walnuts, and dried cherries with pulled duck leg.)

Duck gets a decidedly Mexican treatment at Jimmy's, served as confit tacos or an entrée of pan-seared breast with golden beets and saffron rice, both with chef Manuel Diaz's dark, sweet-piquant mole sauce. (bb's does a delish duck-mole taco as well.)

"A lot of what I do is apply French technique to Oaxacan ingredients," says Zocalito chef-owner Michael Beary, classically French trained. One trademark: grilled duck smeared with a rub of chile-orange-garlic ricotta—"which was really of Mayan descent," he quips. A rainbow aesthetic is achieved with tomatillo-jalapeño salsa with chunky avocado; pomegranate reduction; spicy orange vinaigrette; sea beans; golden beets; pickled onions; and Manchego potatoes. "It's been on the menu forever—a big fan favorite," Beary says. Now he's toying with duck tamales to add as a weekend special.

But the Duck King crown might go to chef Matthew Zubrod, who conceived of the crazy-addictive duck ramen in hot-sour broth with Thai basil and herbs while at the helm of bb's kitchen years ago (it's still there, on the bar menu, thankfully). When Zubrod moved to The Little Nell in spring 2015, he brought that signature duck ramen with him (bar menu at element 47, along with regular menu items including duck confit lettuce wraps with plum sauce and an entrée of dry-aged duck breast with bitter greens.)

Zubrod's trademark DLT—a double-whammy of crispy duck confit and duck "bacon" with LTP on a chewy roll—is available on Sunday special only at Ajax Tavern. (Trade overplayed truffle fries for duck-fat potatoes instead.)

Chef Zubrod adores duck so much he convinced the Nell to commission new, custom-constructed carts for e47's luxe tableside program: traditional French duck pressé à l'orange, crushed tableside, then sauced with Hennessey-spiked orange glaze ($127 for two people, 24-hour advance preorder only).

Chef Jeff Casagrande of bb's carries on tradition with duck confit "à l'orange" with wild rice, bok choy, and blood orange. (He also does duck confit toast with wild mushrooms and duck egg—foie gras optional.)

Rustique chef Armstrong serves iconic duck confit a l'orange over warm frisée and farro salad along with sliced smoked duck breast—"the duck leg isn't quite enough for an entrée," owner Rob Ittner notes—pickled sour cherries, shaved fennel, and orange demi-glace.

Sweetness rules seared duck breast at The Wild Fig (glazed with fig and honey, finished with pomegranate seeds) and Gwyn's Fine Dining in Snowmass (Burgundy-tart cherry reduction over winter vegetable hash); sautéed foie gras gets apples, brioche, and cider reduction at Rustique.

Why are chefs so duck crazy? "It's like the best part of chicken—the thigh—around the whole bird," enthuses Grey Lady executive chef Kyle Raymond. Raymond's signature "Duck Overboard" is a sharable platter of three varying appetizers—his "ode to duck." (He, too, grew up eating duck once a year: his grandmother's, at Christmas.)

The board is an experimental showcase: Brined, roasted duck is torn onto sliders with fruit-infused barbecue sauce (a crowd favorite, he says). Smoked duck skin becomes "cracklin' chips." Pâté is a staple. And Raymond revives the duck wings conceived by Grey Lady founding chef Kathleen Crook with seasonal glaze (cranberry-apricot, for instance).

"We're (considering) 'bill to tail' (items)," Raymond explains. "Duck tongue…is a process. (Chef Matt O'Neill) did it last year at Aspen Kitchen on a (deviled) duck egg with duck prosciutto. That was my inspiration to get some duck on the menu."

Duck, he concludes, lends itself to whimsy. Grey Lady diners might find Raymond's "Mallards on Goat Back" (duck bacon rolled around Medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese) on Duck Overboard or a quirky American-French mashup: duck bacon à l'orange.

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