A bird’s-eye view of the best waterfowl in town.
6350 E. Thomas Rd., Scottsdale
Duck is a food that elicits reactions ranging from delight to horror. You either love the fowl’s earthy flavor or revile it, but when duck is prepared properly, it’s exquisite. Case in point: Pitch’s juicy, coal-fired duck breast ($35, pictured) from Maple Leaf Farms, which is infused with so much smoky flavor that executive chef Manny Torino only seasons the meat with salt and pepper before finishing it in his 900-degree oven. The medium-rare cutlet is glazed with a tangy red wine pomegranate sauce that sits atop a well-crafted wild mushroom risotto. To balance out the plate, Torino adds tempura baby carrots.creating an Italian-Asian mashup that allows the unembellished duck breast to shine. It’s an approachable dish for duck neophytes, and longtime lovers will savor every coal-kissed bite.
2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix
Sometimes a complex preparation achieves divinity, too. At Barrio Café, Silvana Salcido Esparza makes pato en tamarindo ($25) by searing the boneless breast fat side down on high heat until the skin blackens “like a chicharón.” She flips the breast for a quick sear and then lets the duck juices reabsorb, leaving the meat moist and tender. As good as the duck is, the sauce, a brooding, tangy mix of red wine, tomato paste, onions, garlic, herbs and tamarind (the fruit pod of a tree native to Asia and northern Africa), hijacks the plate. Served on a pile of chile-tinged mashed potatoes and sautéed Mexican squash, the dish has many fans, Esparza says. “It’s freakin’ delicious.”
Two Valley locations
The fiendish geniuses at Clever Koi serve a spicy duck curry ($15) made from duck legs and thighs house-cured in sugar, togarashi and other spices for two days and then cooked in duck fat. Chef Anthony Dang presents the dish like a chopped salad, with rows of whole peanuts, pickled peppers, roasted potatoes and bits of sticky duck on a pool of intense red curry sauce nested on a bed of soft udon noodles. The crispy, sweet duck slivers are tinged with hoisin sauce reminiscent of Peking duck. The curry is eye-wateringly hot, but the potatoes offer a little respite from the slow burn. If you want to go all in on duck, Clever Koi also whips up duck fried rice and pineapple confit duck leg.
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