• Bloomberg


According to just about everybody, the future of dining in America can be summed up in two words: fast casual.

But before you imagine your world full of nothing but chicken tenders and kale caesar salads, consider this contrary trend: the rise of old-fashioned cooking tools and methods, along with a focus on things that take time.

The duck press is a tool dating back to the 1880s that has surfaced at such top New York restaurants as Daniel, Per Se, La Grenouille, and Shun Lee Palace and is probably making a comeback at the reinvented Four Seasons, too.

Made famous in the 19th century by the grandest of grand restaurants, La Tour d’Argent in Paris, the recipe for pressed duck calls for essentially one ingredient — you guessed it — and one key piece of equipment.

Standing some 60 cm tall and weighing in at about 9 kg, the duck press is a highly specialized thing. It’s used to press the blood from the bones and internal organs of a duck, which is then stirred into the sauce that’s spooned over the roasted bird. While it might sound like something from Bizarre Foods, the result is quite delicious. The blood thickens and enriches the sauce, adding a singularly earthy umami taste. It’s the poultry equivalent of a perfect black-and-blue steak, though more intense and flavorful.

The reigning duck press champion, however, has to be Laurent Gras. He’s been called “ounce for ounce, the best chef in the world” by Momofuku’s David Chang, and his resume counts stints in the kitchens of several of the world’s legendary French chefs, including Guy Savoy, Alain Senderens, and Alain Ducasse, whom he helped win three Michelin stars. In the way that crafting a perfect omelet or loaf of bread is the test of a great chef, Gras considers pressed duck his masterpiece.

“Essentially, you’re making roast duck in sauce. It just takes about 30 steps to do it,” he said. “It’s one of the most unique preparations in the world, and yet it’s only duck.”

One recent morning, Gras, who is doing a series of pop-ups around New York, brought his cherished duck press to Bloomberg’s Manhattan office to create the dish for a select group.

The process started several days earlier: Gras ordered ducks from a special supplier in Canada, which he finds produces the most flavorful birds. He dried them in a refrigerator for two weeks before cooking, which both concentrated the flavor as the moisture evaporated and tenderized the meat as muscles broke down. Even if it’s not destined for the duck press, he said, a duck merits sitting for a few days before cooking. “Fresh duck is not a selling point to me,” advised Gras. “It will always be tough.”

Gras browned the whole bird on its leg and breast sides, and then roasted it for about 15 minutes in two consecutive cycles, letting it sit halfway to keep moist. He carved the duck, setting aside the meat for plating and pouring any juices into a bowl.

“Every drop of blood and juice is precious now,” he said, adding that the process makes him feel a little bit like Dr. Frankenstein. Gras transferred the cut-up remnants and odd bits of duck into the duck press and started pressing.

The result is incredible: meaty, gamy slices of duck breast and the whole duck legs, with outrageously crisp skin. Most important was a deep, dark-brown sauce, thick as custard, with a rich, sweet, earthy flavor and the texture of soft velvet.

If anyone offers to make pressed duck for you, your answer must always be: “Yes.”

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