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A Tale Of Dread And Duck Breasts: One Chef's Nightmare, Retold


OK, it might just be dinnertime for some of you or maybe you enjoyed Thanksgiving earlier and the food coma is setting in. Thank the cook, or comfort them if there was a dish gone wrong. Listen, it happens to anyone, no matter what the culinary skills might be.

PATI JINICH: I just felt a cold sweat dripping down my forehead.

SHAPIRO: Like chef Pati Jinich. She's the chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute here in Washington, D.C. That sense of dread she just described, it's from a few years ago.

JINICH: I had 120 hungry people.

SHAPIRO: All gathered at the Institute to taste Jinich's food. On this day, she was making duck breasts.

JINICH: You sear them over a very high heat until the skin really crisps and becomes golden brown. And then you flip them over and you finish them off.

SHAPIRO: Things were on track - the duck was seared, the oven was preheated and then disaster.

JINICH: The oven decided to just shut off.

SHAPIRO: And Jinich was stuck with 120 pieces of raw duck and all the trimmings.

JINICH: (Laughter) I had a delicious Himachal (ph) flour and orange syrup waiting to be poured on those breasts and goat cheese and black bean tamales waiting to sit by the side of those lovely breasts.

SHAPIRO: Ah, but she got creative.

JINICH: We set up cooling racks on top of the skillet.

SHAPIRO: The really hot skillet. She stacked the racks on top of the pan, put the uncooked duck on the racks, then covered the whole thing with foil. The duck cooked in this improvised oven slowly.

JINICH: It was really delicious, but it came out, like, an hour after it was supposed to come out.

SHAPIRO: And here's a lesson for all you home cooks - it was not just her quick thinking in the kitchen that saved the meal.

JINICH: I asked the bartender to open a couple boxes of the wine.

SHAPIRO: And yes, you can try that at home.

JINICH: In the end, everybody had a beautiful plate with crispy skin and moist meat, but oh, boy, I just sweated that one out. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.