How to Cook a Lame Duck

A lame duck is a fried duck in the Chef’s kitchen. Here, Thai-style.
I’ve got this ritual I do when it’s time to celebrate some personal triumph or positive turn of events. I go downtown to the Thai restaurant, order crispy duck, and ask them to make it extra-crispy. Duck meat is rich and decadent stuff; to crispy-fry it makes it even better. With a curry sauce on top, it’s cause for celebration in and of itself.

Since the midterm elections I’ve been thinking a lot about duck. One obvious reason is that the results put me in a celebratory mood, which of course sends my thoughts winging to crispy duck.

Yes, ducks are flying around in my brain, a flurry of quacks and flaps, as if gathering for a big push south. And I gotta say, with their hyperactive wing muscles twitching in overdrive, migrating ducks are anything but lame. Yet somehow the phrase “lame duck” has become a common descriptor for politicians who’ve lost their bid for re-election and must return to their jobs to serve out their terms in a state of profound impotence.

No, those ducks, like many Americans, are not lame. A lame duck, like a lame American, is a duck that can’t hang. It’s a duck left behind, with little influence on the future of duckdom.

Montana Senator Conrad “raghead” Burns, Virginia Senator George “monkey man” Allen, and Pennsylvania’s Rick “Santorum” Santorum come to mind as good examples of particularly lame lame ducks who now face lonely returns to Washington, where they will pack their bags, have a lame December, and beat their lame butts home.

It could also be argued that our commander in chief, “Bring ’em on” Bush, is now a lame duck, too. Although he did not lose a re-election bid, and thus can’t be technically considered a lame duck like his papa, losing both houses of Congress to the opposition party amounts to a pretty good wing-clipping. And even if he never admits that losing both houses of Congress was related to his lame performance in office, he’s nonetheless doomed to spend the next two years getting his shirt handed to him as the Democrats hopefully get to work sorting out the mess he’s created.

But since we can’t officially call GW a lame duck, I guess we’ll have to substitute another four-letter word that rhymes with duck.

There I was, all set to go get some crispy duck in celebration of the humbling of George “that lame `rhymes with duck`,” when I remembered that I actually had a duck of my own in the freezer. So I saved myself a trip and made some crispy lame duck at home.

With a mortar and pestle, I mashed together turmeric, cardamom, ginger, salt, and fresh garlic. I added the juice of one lime, soy sauce, and vinegar from a jar of pickled peppers. Then I washed the duck in vinegar, cut off the skin, cut the bird to pieces, rubbed it with the spices and left it to marinate overnight.

The next day, I chopped ginger, lemon grass, dried chiles, and galanga root and fried it all together in a cast-iron skillet in a combination of canola oil and bacon grease. I added chunks of lime and sliced onion, zucchini, and yams. Finally, I added coconut milk and let the slow simmer begin.

Meanwhile, I put a splash of canola oil in a big wok and fried the duck skin in the oil until it was shriveled and crispy. At this point the wok contained more than a cup of duck fat (not to be confused with “duck butter” — see the online dictionary of urban slang).

I fried the duck pieces in the hot fat until they were brown and crispy, and then I put them on a platter, poured the coconut curry sauce all over it and garnished with lime and cilantro. It was ducking amazing.

Another duck expression worth mentioning is “duck soup.” Slang for something easy, like “piece of cake,” Duck Soup is also the title of a 1933 Marx Brothers movie, whose plot has to do with the governor of the make-believe land of Freedonia contemplating war with neighboring Sylvania. The war against those who hate Freedonia was supposed to be duck soup — not unlike the duck-soup predictions by Bush for his war on those who hate freedom.

But I couldn’t find any duck-soup recipes I wanted to make. There was a Polish duck soup called Czarnina that involves adding the duck’s blood to the broth, but I wasn’t really into it. Maybe duck soup, like an easy war, is a bloody myth.

That’s why I prefer my lame ducks fried to a crisp.


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