I have two cats, four-year-old siblings. They have been eating canned Friskies since they arrived at our house, as well as dry food. As cats are wont to do, recently they decided they didn't like Friskies, so we started trying other brands.
Obviously it had been a few years since we looked at pet food, having been accustomed to grabbing the same cans from the same place on the shelf at the market every week. Things have changed, but I'm not sure it's for the better. What struck me most was that manufacturers have started putting vegetables in their cat food. Uh, aren't cats carnivores? Before you start yelling at me, I know that cats need certain elements in their diet that meat alone will not provide. But I don't think the cats need peas, carrots, spinach, "garden greens," barley, wild rice, etc. Can you say "cheap" and "filler"?
Surprise: the elegant descriptions and pretty pictures on the cans are aimed straight at the pet owners. But there's the twist: the descriptions sound darned good. Yes, they made me hungry, never mind the cats. And I must admit, I was particularly drawn to one kind of dog food (okay, the other side of the aisle): duck with sweet potatoes.
No, I did not bring home a can and sample it, but I thought that it sounded like a great pairing. I like duck, and since my market stocks frozen duck parts (the back end is about half the price of the front end), I try to keep some in the freezer for quick but elegant meals. So I went looking for a recipe—and found that there aren't many for duck and sweet potatoes. I found all of two, both from the UK. What I present here is a conflation of those, but it's quick, easy and tasty.
DUCK WITH SWEET POTATOES
2 duck legs
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat an oven-proof cast iron frying pan and sear the duck legs, skin side down, over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until the fat starts to run.
Turn the duck pieces over and sear the other side, then remove from the pan. Pour off and save the fat, if any. (I happened to have some cipollini onions on hand, so I browned them a bit before the next step.) Add the soy sauce and honey and deglaze the pan, scraping up any bits. Return the duck pieces (and the onions, if you have them) to the pan and sprinkle with pepper and coat with the soy sauce-honey mix. Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 20-30 minutes.
When the duck is cooked, remove it from the pan and keep warm. Put the pan on the stovetop and add the red wine, once again scraping the pan. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half (and all the alcohol has boiled off--you can tell by smelling the steam rising). Add the thyme and stir.
The Sweet Potatoes:
1 large sweet potato, peeled and coarsely grated
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Duck fat (either from the cooking above, or additional)
Place the grated sweet potato in a bowl and mix well with the fresh thyme, then season with salt and pepper.
In a small frying pan over medium-high heat, heat the duck fat, then add the grated potato mixture and press down to flatten. Fry for 5-7 minutes on each side, until the potato is cooked and the outside is crisp. (If this sounds like too much work, just mash the potatoes, but don't forget the thyme. No need to add butter--the sauce will provide richness.)
When you are ready to serve, place the duck pieces and potatoes on a plate and pour the sauce over them. And to think it all started with dog food.