When the new half-smoke-stuffed, maple lacquered duck from the Michelin-starred Blue Duck Tavern hits tables for this first time this Saturday, it will mark an achievement nearly four months in the making for executive chef Adam Howard and his crew.
Howard, who took over the kitchen this summer, says the duck represents his crew’s first dish at the vaunted Park Hyatt hotel restaurant that came from a wholly original place. Everything the staff rolled out before was a variation on something Howard picked up at previous stops, including time as a chef de cuisine for Bryan Voltaggio and a corporate chef for Mike Isabella Concepts.
After painstaking research and development from Howard and sous chef Patrick Pervola, the kitchen came up with an Americanized Peking duck that includes a luxurious version of D.C.’s iconic half-smoke sausage. It takes more than seven days to prepare.
First, a Rohan duck from Northern Virginia gets brined. Then the legs are removed, and their meat is blended with duck trimmings, pork, and foie gras in a luxury version of the D.C.’s iconic Polish sausage, a pork-and-beef half-smoke.
The rest of the duck goes into an aging box for a week, where some of the fat in the breast renders out, and the skin gets tight. After aging, the breast is blanched, stuffed with the half-smoke, and smoked. It spends time in a steam oven, then gets lacquered with a cinnamon-infused maple syrup reduction before it’s finally finished in a high-heat wood-burning oven to crisp the skin.
Confit duck legs are added at the end to complete the bird, along with a dirty rice made with duck livers and Carolina Gold grains and a house-fermented kimchi made with collard greens and radishes.
“There’s like 19 steps in this thing because we’ve kind of over-engineered the heck out of it,” Howard says with a laugh. “A year from now, I’m sure it will be many less steps, but it’s a dish we’re very excited about.”
Howard says he hopes to have five or six ducks available per night. The dish costs $115 and is expected to feed up to four people.
The project is so expensive and labor-intensive, Howard says, it could only be realized at the Blue Duck Tavern. The revenue streams created by the hotel business help ease the pressure of food costs. The volume of business creates a demand for the in-house butchery program. And the identity the restaurant has built around ingredients from craft producers helped him finish it.
The duck wasn’t finished until Howard started sourcing his syrup from the Maple Guild in Vermont, which uses a trademarked steaming process instead of boiling to preserve the natural flavor of the ingredient. The sourcing standards at the Blue Duck meant the syrup had to pass blind tastings with staff and management.
The final dish, Howard says, speaks to the same approach the restaurant had before he got there.
“We’re kind of bridging this gap between European and Asian and making it all come across as kind of singularly American,” he says.
Along with Howard’s duck, the Blue Duck Tavern is also introducing a “fire garden” this month with outdoor seating, fire pits, and small bites (Bavarian pretzels, chocolate or cheese fondue, Maryland crab rolls) from Howard and food and beverage director Troy Knapp.