For the recipe only, click here.
I almost exclusively shop at Aldi for my groceries. I have yet to find a store in my area that can beat the prices, with comparable quality and convenience. Shopping for groceries is one of my favorite to-do line items, but it can feel like a bit of an annoyance when busy (as many of my habitual takeout-eating classmates know all too well). Aldi has a reputation for providing a more random assortment of items. Meaning, that perfect marinade you found last month might never make another appearance in the store. A small price to pay for the increased odds of finding culinary gems for an affordable price. When I happen upon one of these unexpected finds, I can’t help but get excited about completing my grocery chore, despite having to lug everything up and down some steep hills. A few months back, I stumbled upon frozen whole ducks while walking the aisles. I had no experience with cooking duck, so naturally I had to try.
For months, said duck sat, frozen solid, in my freezer. In an effort to clear out my cabinets before I leave my apartment for the summer, I have been cooking and eating exclusively from the canned and frozen foods I already have. Down to my last few items, the duck was staring back at me this weekend. It was time to give it a shot.
As I enjoyed my first bites of the delicious, fatty, savory bird I managed to not burn to bits, my mind wandered to ducks and the end of the school year. This might be a little abstract, but follow me for a moment.
In many ways, duck is the perfect metaphor for where I am right now in my academic journey. No, I am not suggesting that I am now a loud, honking MS-1, searching desperately for breadcrumbs in the form of free lunch talks (although, that isn’t too far from reality, now that I think of it). Rather, the duck is reminding me of what was most important throughout this year.
One of their more adorable visions is of momma duck traipsing around with a small gang of ducklings in tow. Cute, but also tangentially relevant. As a first year medical student, you are very much at the bottom of the medical totem pole. We barely know anything and we spend most of our time acting and pretending. No shame–it’s part of the process. While we are mostly ducklings, there are times when it is essential that we be a momma duck. Whether it is deciding on attending or skipping lectures, abandoning the syllabus for other resources, or simply knowing who are your true friends amongst your peers, you must be able to lead yourself. This does not mean you should traverse medical school alone (ducks fly in flocks for a reason). Rather, this means that you have to know what is best for you and when to abandon what you know for what you are discovering. No one can necessarily teach you how to be a leader of self. Your books will not have the answers.
The other image of ducks that strikes me is when you catch a glimpse of many, in-flight. The collective sound and streamlined geometry is genius. It holds even more weight for me, as someone who rarely knew how to study collaboratively, rely on others when things felt unbearable, nor regularly felt confident enough to place my level of knowledge to the forefront. Ducks move together out of selflessness and efficiency. When it is your turn to lead, you move to the front of the pack, bodying the wind and resistance so others can rest easy in your wake. The key to this formation is that when you grow tired, the formation shifts– you take a break, riding on the strength of others who are better equipped in the moment to soldier the wind. This dance continues the length of the journey. And everyone reaches the destination, together. There is no more important lesson for medical school, or really any professional journey. Knowing whom to lean on, and when, can be the difference between making it or stopping short. Despite what many would like to believe about themselves, no one person is meant to beat the elements, alone. Recognizing and capitalizing on the people-resources in your corner or at your disposal is the greatest tool for success. Just ask the ducks.
Honestly, the major key for me this year was to role with the punches– like water off a duck’s back. Medical school is challenging. Even if the science is not difficult for you, the sheer amount of material, and the expectations of thrusting into sudden student-doctorhood can feel daunting. Not to be dismissed, there are many social challenges with medical school. Being a bird of different feathers in a sea of beige is not only uncomfortable, but also a barrier to success. When faced with academic, personal, or social challenges, one of my greatest assets has been the ability to allow tensions and disappointments to roll off my back. Resilience is a must in medicine. If you don’t have it when you start, you have to grow some in order to stay.
Just like a duck, I might have left a smelly crapload of mistakes around during my first year learning process. And maybe I need the grace of passersby to yield as I cross the many roads of uncertainty and doubt throughout the coming years. Waiting for duck to roast requires patience and active participation. You can not be a passive cook. A few hours later, you have a more delicious, fatty, flavorful bird. Worth it. I would like to think, throughout this process of delayed gratification, things will turn out that much more satisfying– with strategy and grit, whatever the attempt, the end result will be rewarding.
- 6 lb whole duck
- 3 Tbsp minced garlic
- 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup honey
- foil or butcher’s twine
- If the duck is frozen, defrost and bring to room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Remove giblets from the inside of duck. Rinse the duck, inside and out, with cold water. Pat duck dry with paper towels.
- Score the duck’s skin on the breast side in a diamond pattern. Poke the fatty parts of the duck with the tip of a knife to ensure the fat will be released when cooking.
- Season the duck very liberally with salt, inside the cavity and on the outside. Place the duck, breast side up.
- Fill cavity with garlic and 1 lemon (sliced). Fold the flaps of skin inward to hold the garlic and lemon in the cavity. Tie the duck legs with pitcher’s twine or with rolled foil.
- Place the bird, breast side up, in a large roasting pan with a rack (this helps keep the duck separate from the fat drippings. Roast for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
- After 1 hour, flip the duck, breast side down, and roast for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.
- In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar with the juice from the second lemon. Flip the duck back to breast side up, and brush the mixture over the duck. Cook for another 40 minutes, brushing the duck with the mixture every 10 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, combine the honey and the remainder of the balsamic mixture. Brush the duck with the new mixture, and cook for 40 minutes. Brush every 10 minutes.
- When finished cooking, remove the duck from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove the lemon from the cavity. Carve, and serve! Quack Quack!