*post updated to include watermelon ketchup recipe- sorry, didn’t realize you’d lynch me if I didn’t share.
About six months ago the phrase “duck nuggets” entered my cerebrum and it hasn’t left since. These words have haunted me like many others that spring from the fecund ether that is my unconscious mind, and I’ve finally chosen to make something of them, Urban Dictionary be damned. No, really, you don’t want to know how the Urban Dictionary defines duck nuggets, it will spoil your ability to embrace the rest of this post. So don’t look. At the Urban Dictionary. Definition. Of duck nuggets.
And if you did, if you just couldn’t resist and you clicked over there like the hopelessly-curious cat that you are, just think of them as duck balls instead for the rest of this post. Surely no one has written anything appetite-thwarting about duck balls.
The reason duck nuggets bounced around my brain like wayward pinballs for so long before I did anything about them was because I had to absolutely nail them. You know, balls-to-the-walls perfection. So I masticated on the thought of balls for a good long while until I devised a way to pay homage to the classically-controversial Chicken McNugget in a way that would squash it firmly beneath the webs of a duck’s feet.
Turns out it wasn’t so hard. I like to buy whole ducks because the moderate $20 investment yields several meals. I reserve the legs for confit, make stock from the carcass and jewels (aka neck, liver and other offal), and render all the fat off the breasts in which to cook potatoes. That leaves me with two luscious breasts (or four, depending on how you look at it) with which to roulade, tea-smoke, or in this case, ground into nuggets.
Since the last time I put a Chicken McNugget in my mouth was many moons ago and I was unwilling to revisit them for the purposes of this post, I had to hypnotize myself to draw upon the cobwebbed memory. I chose to do this by drinking myself into a stupor, which everyone knows is akin to a hypnotic state. It can even help you to stop smoking, but usually it’s because you’re so drunk you can’t find your pack of Gauloises.
The hypnotism must have worked, because when I woke up the next morning the first word to pop into my mind was “dry.” Nevermind the fact that I hadn’t drank water in 20 hours and the inside of my mouth felt like someone had swabbed it with a rusty cotton ball. Evidently the last time I tasted a Chicken McNugget I found it dry. No wonder everyone dipped them in little plastic vats of Fry Sauce when I was growing up. Being a vegetarian and therefore unable to eat McNuggets along with my friends, I would often just lick the fry sauce straight out of the plastic vat. This was usually because I had previously taken several bong hits and the thought of ordering fries from an intimidating fast food worker just seemed like too much work.
If “fry sauce” sounds Greek to you, you probably did not grow up in Idaho or Utah. Fry sauce is a special thing Mormons concocted because without the addition of alcohol to their viscous repertoire, they felt lacking in liquids. Back when I was growing up in Twin Falls, Idaho, fry sauce was served at every fast food joint including McDonalds, but it was invented by Arctic Circle Restaurant in 1948. The Arctic Circle in my home town is still owned by the same family it was in high school, only now it’s been passed down to the kids who were a part of my generation. I’ll have to remember to ask them if they still serve fry sauce with their curly fries. If so, I’m sure it remains very popular among the potheads.
You are, no doubt, still wondering what fry sauce is. We were always told it was a carefully-blended combination of mayonnaise and ketchup, however, like the myth of Santa Claus, that was a line of bs. Sure, there’s mayo and ketchup in it, but a scandal broke loose once they discovered that it had a secret ingredient.
It so happens that over the course of his lifetime, Brigham Young’s sperm was collected by each of his 55 wives. Because he was such a virile polygamist, upon his death, the wives had a stockpile the size of the Mormon Temple of pristine LDS jizz. They opted to dehydrate it, hoping some future scientist would find a way to rehydrate it and make even more Brigham Young babies once the world was ready. Half a century later, a fast food magnate discovered the dried sperm, tasted it, and not knowing what a precious commodity he had on his tongue, declared it “robust and salty like the nipple sweat of an angel.” He packaged up the whole lot and used it as the secret ingredient in his almost-perfect fry sauce. That’s why it tastes just a little gritty.
Being in Washington State now and not particularly wanting to put Brigham Young’s sperm into my duck nuggets to alleviate their dryness, I decided to focus on a different sauce. The watermelons are lush and sweet this time of year, and I had a big one from the market. I opted to puree my watermelon and boil it down low and slow in a nonstick skillet with some star anise to make watermelon ketchup. A little vinegar and splash of salt at the end makes for the deepest ruby-colored smear you’ve seen since you lost your virginity on your boyfriend’s mom’s white sheets in tenth grade.
Rather than just dip the nuggets into the watermelon ketchup, I wanted to make sure a surprise squirt would be waiting inside. I thickened the ketchup with a few gelatin sheets and some time in the freezer, then as I formed my nuggets using a small (100) cookie/food scoop, I piped a small pearl of ketchup into their centers. I realize that you would be alarmed if you bit into a ball and it had a gushing red center, but a. most of you probably aren’t biting into balls and b. if the squirt tasted as good as watermelon ketchup you’d eat it anyway.
Then I battered the balls and coated them in panko, which is a fancy Japanese word for breadcrumbs. Panko are lighter than normal breadcrumbs, and I figured with the heaviness of the duck balls, a fluffy exterior would complement the texture. Also, I wanted to be able to describe the balls as fluffy, since in a way I am a duck ball “fluffer,” which is porn-speak for “whisperer”. The only thing left to do was to deep-fry the nuggets. I huddled over the deep-fryer as though it was a crack pipe and I was Whitney Houston. I could not WAIT for the nuggets to emerge from their hot, oily bath. I dipped them three times for about a minute each time to ensure even cooking of the centers and perfect browning of the edges. I call this technique “deep-fryer teabagging.”
When the crack I mean nuggets emerged from their final teabag session, my family and I did something shameful. We had dinner guests arriving soon, and I had made 30 nuggets from two duck breasts. This is more than enough to feed four adults as an entrée, but I had made them as an appetizer because I needed to be sure they would come out ok. I tasted one. My eyes rolled back into my head and I wondered if the Power Bullet was lodged in my panties since I started convulsing with pleasure. Then I called Jonas over and he ate one. Then another. Then we invited Bentley Danger to join us, but only because he was looking at us like we were clinically insane, the way Stewie Griffin often looks at his parents.
Jonas, Bentley and I proceeded to eat every single duck nugget in five minutes flat. We left not a one for our dinner guests. It was evil, pure evil. And now I’m going to commit one further wrong by not sharing the recipe. This is because a. I didn’t write as I went along and therefore would have to guesstimate (something I hate to do since the word is so incredibly lame) and b. Jonas said if I didn’t quit whateverthefuck I think I’m doing with my life right now and start making these for a living, selling them out of the trunk of my car if I have to, I’d be crazy. Thus I’d better not share the recipe. So I’m thinking of becoming a salesman of duck balls. Do you think a Mercedes C230 Kompressor would make an ok food truck?
*Update: there was a twitter uproar for at least the watermelon ketchup recipe, so here it is:
Makes 1.5-2 cups
- 1/2 large, red watermelon pureed in the blender to make roughly 8 cups
- 1 star anise clove, whole
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp finishing salt such as Maldon (or more, to taste)
- 2 sheets leaf gelatin (optional, for thickening to use as a filler for nuggets, meatballs, etc)
1. Pass the watermelon puree through a strainer (to remove and seed particles) into a large nonstick skillet. Add the star anise and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it has reduced significantly and is the consistency of ketchup. This will take between one and two hours.
2. Add the vinegar and salt and cook an additional five minutes over low heat. Meanwhile, if you decide to thicken it with gelatin, soak the leaf gelatin in cold water.
3. Remove the ketchup from heat and add the wrung out sheets of leaf gelatin. Stir to combine thoroughly and place in an airtight container. Keeps about 1 week in the refrigerator until the flavor diminishes.