Menu Writing & The Smoked Duck Theory

“Everything we do – each idea, moment of inspiration, ingredient, protein, technique, which finds its way onto your plate, revolves around the menu.”

Menu Writing

Writing a menu is fun. It’s fairly easy to dream up a dish and write it down. In essence the menu is a written guide that tells the customer what to expect and how much it costs.  It can be as straightforward and easy to understand as standing, at the counter and ordering a happy meal from McDonalds, or as sophisticated and lengthy as an eight course tasting menu with wine pairings. There are four common types of menu, with several variations or combinations to serve the needs of the food service establishment.

The most common is the Static menu which offers an extensive array of food choices that never change. Fast food operations are the best examples of this menu style. From a business standpoint-  it is extremely cost effective, lends itself to speedy production, the food is the same from location to location and most important, diners expectations are easily met.

A la Carte menus ,price and serve each food item separately. The diner orders and pays for, only the items he or she chooses. Most restaurants have adopted this format even though they may combine one or more menu styles to suit the needs of the business.

Fine dining restaurants offer what is commonly called a tasting menu, which is a modern reinvention of the “Prix Fixe”menu. A set price is charged for a meal with multiple courses which can consist of small “tasting” portions of everything and anything the chef can dream of. Tasting menus are an exhilarating roller coaster ride of sensations, melded by technique and the best ingredients, to sate the palettes of adventurous gourmands. It is not uncommon to spend hundreds of dollars on a tasting menu at a michelin starred restaurant.

A cycle menu is exactly that, the menu changes for a set period of days then repeats itself. This is common in school cafeterias and hospitals; think back to Meatloaf Mondays in high school. It is not uncommon to see one or more menu types in a food service establishment. A fine dining restaurant may offer an a la Carte and an additional tasting menu to diners. A hotel may use a cyclical menu for certain food items along with their a la Carte menu e.g. lobster bisque on Mondays, tomato soup on Tuesdays, New England clam chowder on Wednesdays, until the menu repeats itself.

The Smoked Duck Theory

The true skill of a good chef is the ability to write a menu that translates into ideas that work. Sometimes a great idea on paper, may be beyond the skill level of the cooks, too expensive, unsustainable throughout the life of the menu, or just a horrible mistake. I had a chef, who had “Frogs’ legs with Blood Orange Habenero sauce” on the menu. Problem was, blood oranges were seasonal, sometimes we had them, sometimes not. A well thought out menu, is like a text book for culinarians. Each time the chef changes the menu, the learning curve of the cooks in the kitchen expands. A good menu introduces new ingredients to the kitchen, it challenges the cooks to adapt and most important , it breathes life into the repetitive routine of daily prep.

We have no duck or Foie Gras preparations on the menu. In fact, none of the methods traditionally associated with preparing this bird are present  – i.e. confit, pate, terrine, curing – sadly, the entire duck and its delicious parts are absent. Our New Years Eve menu sought to address  this ,with the inclusion of a smoked and sliced duck breast as the second course.  On the menu it reads ” Smoked Duck Breast, Potato & Herb Donut, Melted Kumquats.” The potato and herb donut is actually “pommes dauphine,” French in origin, with a long history and an interesting method of preparation. The duck breast uses two traditional methods of preservation – dry curing and cold smoking. Dry curing uses salt and other ingredients to draw the moisture out of meat or fish  over a period of time, which preserves it. This is the recipe used to cure the duck breast : equal parts brown sugar and kosher salt, 1 lb. each. 1 oz. each, cloves and coriander seeds, 1/2 oz. whole black peppercorns.  Toast and blend all three spices in a spice grinder and add to the salt cure.

These are Moulard duck breast which have a very thick layer of fat covering the breasts. Trimming some of the excess fat will speed the curing process. Each breast is trimmed for uniformity.

Render the duck fat & Save for Confit. Anything fried in Duck Fat is Delicious. Remove the tenders and cure and smoke them for the cooks – scooby snacks




Crumbled Hickory Briquette. Get your smoker ready  – layer of aluminum in the bottom. This is a small stove top smoker that is extremely easy to use. It’s very efficient and gets the job done in about 4 minutes or less.



Cover Duck Breasts completely with the seasoned cure. Cure for 4 hours in walk-in cooler




Wash thouroughly and place duck breasts in smoker.




Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!



Remove duck breasts from smoker, place on a wire rack and let cool in the refrigerator. For service sear duck breast skin side down until crisp and golden brown. Finish in the oven for eight minutes. Reove from oven let rest for another four minutes before slicing.



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