Braised Duck Legs from Jean-Georges {recipe} – What The Pluck Does This Have to Do With Anything?

Duck Legs, Braised Recipe Jean-Georges Vongerichten

I discovered a gray hair last week.

It sent me into a tailspin.

Or a headspin, in this case.

Or maybe just a headcase.

As you can read, I haven’t recovered from the discovery yet. (I wanted to make that rhyme, but what is this? A poetry blog?) I am still dealing with it several hours days later because it wasn’t even a gray hair.

It was white.

I could have bounced back from soft, subtle gray. I could have coaxed my sanity back from the chromatic compromise between black and white. It would have taken a few deep breaths and two glasses of wine, but I would have shaken it, like an ex’s getting married before me, off.

(Ok, the ex- thing took a little more than two glasses.)

But this hair was white. It had crossed the line. It had gone all the way over to the other side, no turning back to black. Like a vampire’s victim drained of all color, drained of all life. Pale. Dead. For eternity.


Curl, You Are a(n Old) Woman Now

I was getting ready for a lunch meeting. When you work from home, when you’re a (pseudo) blogger, when you rarely, if ever leave the house before 4 pm, rarely, if ever leave the house at all, you don’t “get ready” for the day until just before you actually have to go out.

I was just going to pull my actual nappy mess into what would look like an on-purpose nappy mess, but I decided that I wouldn’t get away with it, so I decided to curl my hair. I have a brand new curling iron, a long, long, *looong* overdue-by-at-least-five-years replacement for the rusty, broken-hinged burnt-product-coated model that I had to throw away before going to France because the French border patrol would not have let me into their gorgeous Parisian French Vogue country with the beauty equivalent of a sawed off shotgun.

(Did I mention that I went to France? No? Ok. I went to France! But can we talk about that later?)

Had I not been curling my hair, it would have remained hidden under the tangles layers of the rest of my hair. Had I not been curling my hair with a brand new curling iron, it would have gotten lost in the camouflage of mottled rust and burnt hair gel. But it wasn’t hidden. It wasn’t camouflaged.

In that lock of hair just back beyond the top of my head, pulled straight and flat then wrapped like a smooth, tight ribbon around the 1¼” barrel, it stood out, it shone, it being the single white hair against the rest of my deep, dark ebony hair, gleaming like a bright white glittering ray of geriatric fucking sunshine.

I fucking found it! Goddamit, why did I have to find it? Wait, thank god I found it.

Lose Your Illusion

I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, which certainly make sense since eyesight is the second thing “to go,” after the color in your hair, and just before your sanity. The optical illusion has happened to me before. When your hair is this glossy, when your hair is this slicked over with three days worth of grease, a black strand can catch fluorescent light in way that makes it shine like it’s white. On more than one occasion, I have seen what I thought was a gray hair, gasped, yanked it out out of my head, only to find myself cursing for pulling yet another perfectly good hair out of my thinning head that can’t really afford to lose a single strand.

When I saw this one, I pulled a crazy maneuver, unrolling the curling iron without losing sight of the single white hair with one hand, and reaching across the bathroom counter as far as the curling iron cord would let me go without electrocuting myself, tore apart my cosmetics case looking for my tweezers because I couldn’t — no just could NOT — risk trying to grab it with my bare hands and losing it. I fished my lifetime warrantied tweezermans out from between a pack of flosspicks and an eyeliner sharpener, then slipped them under the hair to pull and isolate it — it, it, *ick* capital I capital T, IT — from the rest for visual verification.

I had it standing straight up from my head.

I might have squeaked. Like Alfalfa. But Asian. And female. And in full screaming drained-of-color color. So not Alfalfa, but you get what I mean.

It was white. Confirmed. The entire hair was ghost-white, wiry, and kinked toward the ends where hair always gets a little damaged.

Pluck Off

When I saw it, I freaked. I am talking full on Psycho 101 textbook with full color photographic illustrations Freaked. Out. I went through the 12 — is it 10? — steps or phases or stages of grief or mourning or post-trauma, all of them, really in about 30 seconds. Shock. Disbelief. Denial. Anger. Sadness. Every step, all of them for every type of emotional bad thing like loss from death, alcohol, whatever that would require a number of steps after, the worst of which is…Gray Hair Discovery.

I screamed like a banshee (screamed in my head, since we’re still in the honeymoon phase in which I couldn’t let on in any way that something was amiss while in the bathroom). Then, poised like the hunter gripping his weapon overhead, right before he’s about to take the final, screaming, thrust down into his fallen prey, I grabbed that white hair by its root and yanked the vile weed from out of the top the top of my head.

I got it.

But I didn’t feel good about it. Removing it from my physical being doesn’t mean it hadn’t been there in the first place. There was a white hair in my head. It’s not there anymore, but the point is that it was there! IT WAS THERE. How long had it been there? How could I have not seen it? How many other people have seen it? Was it the only one? Oh my god. OHMYGOD but ohmygod, wait, OH MY GOD, what if it wasn’t the only one? What if there are more?!

See? Freaked.

See Spot? Run!

I couldn’t stop touching the pinpoint on top of my head from where I had plucked it. It didn’t hurt, but that was the spot. I wanted to remember it forever because that’s what I do when I freak out. I remember every fucking detail, like where I was lying, crying, curled up on the right side of my bed, when you broke up with me (over the phone, no less). See? Every fucking detail, like where, exactly, down to the longitudinal coordinates of my anatomical globe, I Found. The. White hair. Some people suppress traumatic memories, block them out completely. Me? I remember everything.

In front of the mirror, my body was contorted, probably matching my twisted, contorted, distorted face. I was trying to see The Spot on the top of my head in the mirror, The Spot, supposedly empty of a white hair now, The Spot, which is now a proper name because battlefields and scenes of crimes get full proper capitalized names. I wanted to see if I had gotten it all out, every last molecule, so that like some alien propagation, it couldn’t grow back into its freakish translucent white.

I will not let it grow back.

(Do Not Read This Paragraph About What I Do With Things I Pluck From Myself)

I held the hair about three inches from my face, inspecting it.

Do you do that? I always do that. Please skip ahead to the following section if you don’t perform nanoscopic-level examinations of things you pluck from your body because you won’t understand this as anything but “omg. ew gross.”

But if you do, then you know exactly what and how and why I was doing. I whipped my glasses off, because yes, I do wear glasses because like I said, eyesight is one of the first things to go. I whipped my glasses off so that I could resort to supernatural farsightedness and touched with my fingertip the root end, covered in a sticky, translucent little tube, even whiter than the white. I always get a weird sensational thrill, a feeling of accomplishment, seeing that soft, sticky root end of the hair because I know I got all of it out, all the way down to the follicle.

I get the same feeling when I examine the sebaceous stalactite farm on a biore strip peeled off my nose.

Ok, I’ll stop now.

(Nor This Paragraph About My Childhood)

As a side note, this kind of psycho-obsessive behavior, I am sure, is bred from childhood summer after childhood summer when Dad “I Believe in Child Labor, At Least My Own” Gim made us pull weeds from the lawn, our tiny little hands able to reach down between the blades of grass, down to the soil-level. We’d tug gently first to loosen, then yank — this the sure-fire method of extracting the weed and every thread, every strand of its root hairs fully intact. When we presented something that we had just plucked in its entirety from the ground, it was a confusing moment of pride, seeking approval, fascination, and relief knowing that in two days, an invisible root would not blossom into certain punishment for a job notwell done.

Ok, Back to The Gray White Hair

I had no idea what to do with it. It wasn’t my first white hair. But it was the first in a very long time. Do I twirl it like a strand of spaghetti? Make a pretty little teardrop shaped loop tied up with a tiny ribbon? Tape it into a “My First…” scrapbook along with all those other souvenirs of aging like a smooth, un-lined inkblot stamp of my first botoxed forehead? My first set of dentures?! My first fucking so-gray-it’s-actually white hair?!

You might be wondering why I had such a violent reaction to a single gray hair. I’m old, right? (Don’t answer that, at least not to my face, at least not right now.) I should have gray hair, right?! But that is exactly the point. For a person my age, my non-gray hair is just about the only blessing I have, the only thing in my life of “gypped of all the good genes” from my charming and beautiful mother and brilliant father. In fact, I have finally convinced myself that having an enormous Hello Kitty head lollybobbling on a grossly disproportionate, but skinny, almost boyish, body suggests “youthful.”

Or “pre-pubescent Sanrio hermaphrodite.”

And now a pre-pubescent Sanrio hermaphrodite with a bobblehead full of gray hair.

Ok, so I know it’s not like I suddenly grew an entire head of gray hair, but I may as well have. That’s what it felt like. I had one white hair. One. And I exterminated it. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be more! That’s the future “more,” not the present “more” because you best believe I performed a full-scale search with a fine toothed comb, literally, over my entire head and found… no more.

Thank god. Do you know how much longer this painfullyselfindulgentbullshit of a blog post would be if I had found more gray hairs?!

I threw the hair away. Along with a little bit of my golden youth and innocent sanity.

I’ve spent the entire weekend with my hair in two braided pigtails, bangs pinned back with a Hello Kitty barette. I am eating an orange flavored lollipop right now.

Even Though Gray Hair Has Nothing to Do with Anything, At Least Not Any Food Thing

So whatthepluck does finding this gray hair have to do with food?!

Nothing really.

I wasn’t even going to attempt it — cherrypicking some subtle point in the “story” that has some tenuous association with somefoodthing, extracting some moral, some life lesson, some cookie of fortunate wisdom, bringing it altogether in a real life application with a recipe or a restaurant review — no, I had no intention of incorporating anything because I’ve kinda of given up.

Because I just wanted to hear myself blog.

Because really. Really? Isn’t “finding hair,” of any kind or any color, kind of gross in the context of food?

But at least I wrote something on my blog! And here’s a recipe for Braised Duck Legs from Jean-Georges that you absolutely MUST make.

So, France. Details in the next post. Or maybe the one after that. Two cameras, ten days…1,600+ pictures?

Ok, so maybe this weekend.

(And…did you really think I would post something that has to do with nothing? You know I bring it all back! You know I always do! It might be a really sketchy stretch, but there will be a connection. There will! Scroll down past the recipe and you’ll see. Unless, as I said above, you get easily grossed out by stuff. Just, you know, know that I have many pairs of tweezers.)
Duck Leg on Cutting Board

Braised Duck Legs with Asian Spices {recipe}

a recipe that has nothing to do with anything, especially not with the aging milestone a(chingly)ka Gray Hair Discovery, but nonetheless from Jean Georges Vongerichten, as published in the cookbook Impress For Less.

Serves 4


1 onion
1 stalk celery
1 carrot
½ stalk lemongrass, peeled, or 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest (** I used the lemon zest)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil (** I used olive oil)
6 duck or chicken legs, excess fat removed
Coarse salt
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
1 scallion, minced
Soy sauce, to taste


In bowl of food processor, combine onion, celery, carrot and lemongrass. Pulse until minced.

** I actually took the time to dice everything by hand into tiny, perfect little squared off dices, not because I’m a cooking snob like that, but because I’m too lazy to take the food processor out of the cabinet. *pause* Don’t think about it too much. It makes perfect sense to me.

Preheat oven to 350°F. In bottom of large, heavy, ovenproof sauté pan, make a bed of the minced vegetables and 2 tablespoons of the minced ginger. Drizzle with oil.

Sprinkle duck or chicken legs with salt and five-spice powder. Place the legs on top of the vegetables. Roast for 2 hours, undisturbed.

Remove from oven and let sit until cool. Remove meat from bones. Discard skin and bones, and shred meat with your fingers. Combine meat with cooked vegetables, scallion, and remaining 2 teaspoons ginger. Season to taste with soy sauce.

** I served this over quinoa cooked with onions, leeks, and tons of garlic, then tossed with a little sesame oil and soy sauce. I also didn’t “discard skin and bones” because, like, who does that?!

Duck Legs Plucking Feathers
(Grossed out? I’m sorry, but didn’t I tell you not to look?!)

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 julie k h May 23, 2011 at 5:47 am

you’re back! I love it!  One of my officemates found a white hair on me the other day.  I totally *knew* that turning 25 was a mistake.  Apparently Asians tend to go grey at younger ages than the rest of the population.  I’ve decided to take that opportunity and dye my hair blonde and freak out my coworkers. :)


2 Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm

your *officemate* found it? how?! how does your officemate find a gray hair in YOUR head?! you guys must have very cozy cubicles :)


3 julie k h May 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I know, right! They have us packed in like sardines over here, minus the oil and the aroma (because I only office with girls and not smelly boys).

4 Cheryl Stoy May 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm

 I found my first one at 30, got up and went out and got some hair color, told my husband life was over, enclosed myself in the bathroom with a bottle of wine and the radio and promptly drank the entire bottle of wine and colored my hair while singing along with the  radio at top of my lungs.  My husband quietly waited until I finished and came out. He told me my hair looked great, I was as beautiful as ever and then he put my drunk ass to bed. I’m over 50 now and my husband still kids me about that day. Go buy some hair color and wine and you’ll be fine. And this receipe looks awesome…


5 Anonymous May 28, 2011 at 2:53 am

“he put my drunk ass to bed.” you have the BEST HUSBAND EVER!


6 Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I love Vongerichten’s recipes. They’re surprisingly do-able for a big-name chef. As for that white or gray hair? Don’t give it another thought. Just think of it as an excuse to get some cool new highlights now. ;)


7 Serena May 23, 2011 at 9:04 pm

You are so hilarious! My mother freaks out and runs to the salon everytime she has the mearest hint of gray in her hair.  The duck looks amazing, by the way :)


8 actorsdiet May 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm

 my husband and i have a grey hair plucking ritual now every week.  acceptance!


9 Anonymous May 28, 2011 at 2:53 am

we dont have a ritual yet, but is this weird? i LOVE plucking “things” from my bf. it’s like my hobby. little gray hairs at his temples, strays that he missed shaving from his face (these hurt him though)…


10 Julie May 23, 2011 at 11:51 pm

As an Asian gal on the verge of the “late 20’s,” my head is already scattered with gray rogues. I guess the other Julie is right. One here, one there. Some turn gray and then decide they want to be black again. I have my bf pluck them out on a semi-annual basis. My theory is that I have so much hair, it’s just statistically inevitable…


11 Lana May 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm

 Your story made my morning! I love your writing, and now I am even happier that I got to meet you at Camp Blogaway. There are not many bloggers out there who can entertain with such wonderful and witty prose. 


12 Brooks May 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I LOVE your voice in all its glorious truthfulness…You had me wrapped around your curling iron with every word. Thank you for the delicious post!


13 Anonymous May 28, 2011 at 2:39 am

Did you “dice” the veggies or “mince” them?  Those are tow very different cuts!


14 Anonymous May 28, 2011 at 2:47 am

i actually did dice them…i am not sure what is supposed to happen if the vegetbles are minced. i suspect that they would fall apart and melt into vegetably awesomeness after 2 hours under all that duck fat!


15 Diana Hossfeld May 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm

My dad used to make my brothers and me do yard work every weekend when we were growing up and I always *ALWAYS* got stuck with weed duty. Or the equally loathsome task of “picking up the pricklies” that fell from the ginormous trees in our front yard. Our house actually stands out when you fly over it (in an airplane) — you can’t even see the actual house… just all the massive trees that form a circle around it.  This is why I never want to have a back yard with plants or trees or flowers.  A patio, yes. A BBQ, definitely.  But nothing that will require me or my spawn to weed.


16 green tea diet June 24, 2011 at 5:27 am

I would really love to know how to cook. But I doubt it if anyone would put effort on teaching me but I guess it is worth a shot.


17 Corianda October 6, 2011 at 11:16 am

Let that one hair grow out and do some Asian Rogue bad-ass shit. And thank you for such an honest post!


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