By Daniel Meyer
Carnitas is (are?) one of my all-time favorite foods. Pork shoulder braised, pulled, and crisped in its own fat; a pile of tortillas, a higher pile of beers. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Last week it almost did. I used duck instead of pork; it stood to reason in my head that braising and frying a duck couldn’t possibly be a bad idea. It wasn’t. I used half a duck and veered away from traditional Mexican spicing. I browned the duck, then braised it in a mixture of scallion, carrot, celery, soy sauce, mirin, and an infusion of chamomile (in other words, I steeped fresh chamomile in boiling water). The duck cooked in a covered pot in a 250-degree oven for about 2 hours; I flipped it once so both sides had equal time in the liquid. When the duck was tender (the leg very much so and the breast totally adequate) and cool, I pulled the meat apart with my fingers, chopped the skin into strips with a knife, and set the bird aside.
I strained the braising liquid, froze it, plucked the fat off the top (saving it for the frying step), and reduced the stock into a glaze, stirring in a squeeze of honey at the end. Now comes the best part; the part that sputters and crackles and sounds as good as it looks and looks as good as it tastes. I melted the duck fat in a cast-iron skillet, scattered in the duck, and let it go. It took 10 to 15 minutes, medium-high heat, occasional stirring, the glaze drizzled in at the end; crispy, chewy, fatty, sweet-salty shreds of duck.
I piled it on a platter with some cherries, beets and ginger that had been soaking in a rice-wine vinegar brine overnight; enough of a pickle to impart a little bite, but not to wreck the flavor of a perfectly good cherry. In the end, not quite as good as real pork carnitas, (beets and ginger aren’t really passable substitutes for tortillas and beer), but pretty close.