Duck is a bird that enjoyed by people from around the world. Known for being rich, incredibly tender, and pleasantly “gamey,” duck is beloved by many. Not all diners are fond of this bird though. Some find it to be greasy, or don’t care for the flavor, or even may have had an experience where the bird tasted a bit like pond water.
The cook has a huge role in the duck reaching it’s full flavor potential, and can do quite a bit about the greasiness and potential off flavors by following the following guidelines when cooking duck:
- Rinse the bird well inside and out.
- Pull off the extra fat, trim off the neck skin.
- Stuff the bird with aromatic herbs and/or veggies.
- Prick or score the skin to release fat.
- Slow roast on a rack.
Cultures all around the world apply varied technique and regional flavors to this fatty little bird. It is enjoyed sweet, spicy, mild, and savory. The best dishes are all of the above.
Peking duck with moo shoo pancakes is a Chinese favorite. The skin is very crisp, and served with addictive hoisin sauce. Duck a l’orange has been a standard at American restaurants for years. It is a decedent of a french dish by the same name, though it is rare to find it done “right.” Duck confit is the ultimate duck indulgence, where duck is pan fried in duck fat. It is very common to see chef’s cooking duck with fruity or sweet sauces. The brightness cuts right through the rich meat, balancing the experience on the palate and neutralizing earthy flavors. Duck is a natural choice for pate being that it is fatty and pleasantly gamey.
Due to its high fat content, the whole bird is really like dark meat and even darker meat in comparison to lean staples such as chicken or turkey. Friends, duck is rich stuff! Like any poultry it comes with pairs of breasts, thighs, and drumsticks. The meat wraps around the back side and connects to the spine, due to the way the duck floats in the water during it’s life. Cooks will be delighted by the tender meat clinging to the spine.
Finally, the greatest gift the duck offers is duck fat. I love duck, but my motivation for roasting one comes when I scrape the last of the duck fat out of the jar I keep stashed in the freezer. The skin needs to be pricked or scored to release the fat. Avoid piercing the meat as you prick the skin, for stabbed muscles release fluids like blood. Blood will decrease the quality of the rendered fat, as well as mar the surface of the skin. Tips:
- Pinch the skin, then poke the fold with a knife tip.
- Or criss-cross shallow cuts across the meat.
- Pay special attention to the reserves of fat around the legs.
- Flip the bird as it roasts.
- Roast low and slow.
Use the duck fat anywhere you would use bacon fat or schmaltz. Heck, sub duck fat for any fat! Wilt some spinach in it, use it to fry a pork chop, make mouth watering biscuits with it, or make a portobello confit with it. It is so wrong and oh-so-right. This fat is coveted by chefs for good reason. It is silky smooth and possesses depth and complexity that rivals truffle oil. I’ve seen rendered duck fat go missing mysteriously from a couple of kitchens I’ve worked in, and every time the Chef looks guilty.
Most ducks will take about two hours to roast. Do the first hour and a half at a low oven temperature, then crank up the heat in the last half hour to crisp the skin. For food safety, the duck should read 160 degrees in a least two locations. Wait until the final stageto probe the meat so that you don’t contaminate the precious duck fat.
Expect 4-6 servings per bird. Pair with a light starch and a leafy green veggie.
See episode #55 Duck in Strawberry Merlot Glaze to see a demonstration about cooking duck, plus a recipe for a wonderful strawberry glaze using fresh ingredients.