The EATEN PATH: Flocking to specialty markets
In one part of town, they hang on rustic cast-iron hooks in Chinatown windows, meat bulging against taut skin that glistens with a sugary glaze.
In another, they arrive roasted on large plates atop white tablecloths topped with pan-seared foie gras and apple cider reductions.
The former in Richmond or Vancouver’s Chinatown. The latter at high-end downtown French restaurant Le Crocodile.
So what do the two have in common?
From egg to processing, the duck served at just about every Asian restaurant or high-end eatery in British Columbia comes from Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry in Yarrow.
Renowned for their duck and goose products, the family-run operation also sells Taiwan chicken and have just started with organic chicken under the Yarrow Meadow brand.
They do so much chicken, and have had such an upsurge in people who want to buy direct, that the business once known as Fraser Valley Duck and Goose have rebranded and are building a new storefront on site.
“It’s time to regain contact with where our food comes from,” president and general manager Ken Falk tells me.
“People want to know what they are eating. They want to talk to the farmer.”
Urban living and grocery store buying has led generations of people to lose touch with food production. Falk is on the front lines of the resurgence in interest.
“It’s fantastic,” he says. “We lost our way and we have found it again. We are teaching our kids that these food products that we buy at Safeway, they don’t actually come from Safeway. They are actually grown on a farm somewhere.”
Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry started as Fraser Valley Duck and Goose in the early 1970s by Peter Zillian. The business grew and a small processing plant was put in.
Falk was a third-generation farmer and a builder by trade and did some work for the Zillian family in 1989. Nine years later Zillian asked Falk if he wanted to buy the business.
“So in 1998 my siblings and my family, we exited the table egg business and we entered the duck business,” he said.
Things stayed small and rans smoothly until the disastrous avian influenza crisis of 2004.
“Every bird on all of our operations were killed in one day,” Falk said. “It was very hard to come back from that. And government was no help really.”
Outside the supply management world of most poultry producers, Falk’s operation was left with no safety net.
And as a vertically integrated operation — from hatched egg to process bird — it took more than a year to ramp up production again.
Now Fraser Valley Specialty poultry is the largest duck producer in B.C., a fact that Falk doesn’t brag about because on a global scale they “are a blip.” But they also are the only ones producing goose. They are only one of three producing Taiwan chicken. And they are as big as any squab producer in B.C.
Behind Rainbow Greenhouses, Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry, with just under 100 employees, is the second largest agriculture employer in Chilliwack, according to CEPCO.
Two of those employees are continuing the family tradition in the business. Ken’s son Joe is operations manager, and Joe’s son Josh “is determined he is going to be a farmer like his dad one day.”
Serving the Asian marketplace has led Falk to learn about some interesting cuisine. They sell squab, which is simply a young pigeon. There is the Taiwan chicken, which is a Leghorn chicken prepared complete with feet and head on. You can also buy duck tongue and gizzads.
But most unique is the balut, a popular street food in the Philippines and in southeast Asia. A duck egg takes 28 days to hatch. Balut is the developing duck embryo taken out of the incubator between 17 and 19 days. They are boiled, opened up and eaten with salt or hot sauce.
“I’ve never tried it,” Falk said. “Probably never will, but we do sell lots.
“There is a large Philippine community in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley and these are foods that they enjoy. They are excited they can get them here.”
Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry storefront is currently little more than a few coolers that office staff help customers with off the side of their desks.
The increase in interest in their unique products, coupled with the broader desire consumers have to purchase direct from the farm is what led to the store expansion.
Stay tuned for a grand opening in the coming weeks and, in the meantime, check out www.fvdg.com for details and to plan a visit.
Ken Falk at Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry provided me with a whole, grade ‘A’ Pekin duck. This is a recipe I cobbled together from Jamie Oliver, TheHungryMouse.com, and other cooking sites online
This will feed four modest eaters or two gluttons.
1 3 kg duck
2 garlic cloves
rind of one orange
1 tbsp of salt
1 tbsp of Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 cup molasses
1. In a mortar and pestle, grind rub ingredients into a paste. Trim excess fat off duck, but don’t discard this; render it down and save the fat for roasting potatoes. Score the duck skin in a cross-hatch pattern all over, being sure not to cut into the meat. Spread one-third of rub inside the duck and the rest all over the skin. Let sit refrigerated for a few hours, up to one day.
2. Pre-heat your oven to 325 C. Create a bed in the roasting pan with vegetables so it is tight to the sides and a couple inches deep. This serves three purposes: to flavour the duck, to keep the duck elevated off the bottom of the pan, and as a side dish.
3. Plop the duck on the veggies, stick half the orange and the ginger slices inside, truss up the legs and put in the oven, uncovered. After 45 minutes, flip it breast side down and cook for another 45 minutes. Then another 45 minutes up and another 45 minutes down. Every time you flip the duck be sure to poke the fat with a knife all over trying not to cut into the meat. You may have to drain off the duck fat once or twice from the pan during cooking.
4. The bird has now been in the oven for 3 hours and should be totally cooked, nice and brown all over. But it’s going to get better. Take it out, check with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh that it’s 165 C. Whisk up your glaze and brush all over the duck.
5. Turn oven up to 400 C, put duck back in, roast for 5 to 10 minutes more keeping a close eye so that it doesn’t burn. When the skin is nice and crispy, you’re done.
6. Carve and serve with veggies as a side dish.