On Tuesday Muffin and I went to the bird market in the Old City, where there are all sorts of live birds for both dinners and pets. We were surrounded by blue and green parakeets (budgies), geese, turkeys, blackbirds, guinea hens, and chickens. Ducks were scarce but Mohammed assured me we'd find some. First I was offered geese. They looked good, but they weren't what I wanted. And they looked too big to fit into our tiny oven. (I'd been instructed to buy the biggest duck I could find, but I was thinking of the biggest duck that would fit in our small oven and small selection of cooking pans.) The first ducks I found were mallards. They were cheap, but covered in flies. In an outdoor market like this, there are going to be some flies, but I wanted to shop around see what my other options were.
We walked down the street, peeking into every storefront. The parrots and parakeets where beautiful and I wanted a cage full of little blue ones to bring home for our terrace. There were also some beautiful ornamental hens and I wish I had a yard for keeping some in. I saw two of the biggest turkeys I've ever seen in my life. Mohammed said that if Americans want a big turkey they must wait for Christmas; at Thanksgiving time only small turkeys are available. There are enough Christians in the city to demand big Christmas turkeys, but not enough Americans to warrant big Thanksgiving turkeys. (Not that the big ones would fit in our oven anyway.) We passed by dozens and dozens of guinea hens, small turkeys, and geese but after several storefronts we still hadn't seen any other ducks.
Just when I was resigning myself to the possibility of guinea hens instead of duck we came to one of the last vendors on the block, the one Mohammed buys the Americans' Thanksgiving turkeys from. He happened to have two big ducks as well. They were pricier than the first ducks I'd seen, but the conditions seemed cleaner. No flies, less smelly. And the right size -- the biggest I could find and the biggest that would fit in our oven. We made a deal for the three kilo male duck, the larger of the two, for 1200 rupees (about $26). It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but honestly I have no idea how much a duck should cost. He tried to sell me the pair for a bargain price and it didn't occur to me until the ride home that I could have bought them both and put one in the freezer.
Many Americans get excited over buying fresh meat but then make a mistake, only once, about delivery of the animal. After seeing friends have live turkeys and other live animals dropped off at their houses, I knew to ask for the duck to be prepared for us. Plucked, cleaned, no neck, take out the organs, for an additional 100 rupees ($2 -- probably the best $2 I've ever spent).
On Thursday Mohammed went back to the market with a cooler full of ice, picked up our prepared duck, and brought it home. Our housekeeper cleaned it off and wrapped it up to sit in the refrigerator. Mike had his Christmas duck.
Mike did all the cooking yesterday. I'm not confident in my meat-roasting skills, but I was able to stock the kitchen with all the groceries he needed, plus keep Muffin out of the way, tidy up the presents-opening mess, and set the table while Mike went to work with his bird.
Muffin helped a little.
It was delicious. It wasn't perfect, but that's due to us still figuring out the nuances of the oven and the toughness of the bird had to do with the life it led before it met me. But it was tasty and something we'd like to do again. The potatoes and carrots roasted in duck fat were amazing and if duck fat is readily available to you I highly suggest you try it. With some seasoned rice and a cranberry log our friends brought over, dinner was complete.
Note the cranberry log standing upright on the plate...
We had a great dinner with some of our new friends and we couldn't have asked for a better day. I hope everyone else celebrating yesterday had as happy a Christmas as we did.