I love duck for winter holidays.
It all began when I first learned to hunt, and bagged my very first kill – a duck.
My aunt walked me through each step of preparing that duck, and we ate it for our Erntedankfest. Duck has always been associated with holidays and festivals since.
So many people shy away from preparing duck, probably because of the dreaded Peking Duck that is touted as the most delicious and difficult way to prepare a duck. Truth is, duck is not only delicious, it’s easy to prepare.
It’s really easy to prepare. Easier than turkey, and then you get all that lovely rendered duck fat. It takes about 5 hours, but most of that time you could do other things. This is a great dish to prepare when you are doing laundry, playing video games, weeding the garden, cleaning house…
Buy your duck. Thaw it out because (at least around here) all duck are frozen. Once it’s thawed (or if you were lucky enough to score a fresh, unfrozen duck), pat it dry all over. If it came with gizzards and innards, pull those out and set aside for now. Rinse the juices out of the inside of the duck.
It does not need to be marinated or brined (although it does well with these, especially the breast, which might dry out a bit).
Heat the oven to 300ºF. Do not use the convection setting if your oven has one – it will blow duck fat all over inside your oven and create a gruesome mess to clean up. You will hate duck forever more if you use the convection setting.
Completely dry the duck. Use paper towels. I don’t often advocate using disposable products, but the best way to know your duck is completely dry is to use paper towels in drying it inside and out. Cloth towels aren’t absorbent enough, and people (read: I am) are often tempted to use the towel even after it’s damp, and that leaves dampness on the duck. It just doesn’t get completely dry.
Of course, you could air-dry it, but that takes long enough that the meat of the duck begins to dry out and you don’t want that to happen.
Then score the skin across the breast in a cross hatch pattern – only the skin. Don’t cut the meat, just the skin and some of the fat beneath it. Prick the skin over all areas that are fatty (again, just the skin and fat, not into the meat).
Season the bird inside and out with
Tie the legs together and tuck the wings behind the duck.
Place it back-side down on a rack in a roasting pan. Tent some foil over it but don’t completely seal it, leave the ends open. You want to catch and contain fat splatters, but not steam the duck.
Now, put the duck into the 300ºF oven and leave it for 1 hour.
At the end of that first hour, pull aside the foil tent, prick any fatty spots on the duck where the fat isn’t draining out, then flip it over onto its breast. Re-tent the foil and roast another hour.
At the end of the second hour, repeat: pull aside the foil tent, prick any fatty ares that aren’t draining, and flip the duck over onto its back. Re-tent the foil and roast another hour.
At the end of the third hour, repeat the process again: pull aside the foil tent, prick any non-draining fatty spots, flip the duck onto its breast side, re-tent the foil, and cook another hour.
At the end of the fourth hour, turn the heat up to 400ºF, remove the foil tent, flip the duck onto its back, and let the duck’s skin crisp up for about 10 minutes (maybe 15 – check it).
Now, if you want a pretty, shiny duck, you need to glaze it. Most people glaze with a blend of honey, molasses (1/4 cup each), and orange juice (2 tablespoons) simmered for 5 minutes, but any glazing will do.
Brush the glaze on the duck and return to the hot oven for 5 minutes (be careful – the glaze can burn quickly, so keep a close eye on it at this point).
Now, remove the duck from the oven and out of the roasting pan onto a board or platter so it can rest a few minutes.
Pour off the duck fat into a wide mouthed sterilized mason jar (a half pint or pint sized jar, depending on the amount of fat your duck gave up) and let it cool down before sealing it and storing it in the refrigerator to use later for duck fat fried potatoes and other tasty dishes.
Once the duck has rested a few minutes, cut off the wings, chop out the backbone, then remove the legs and thighs, and slice off the breast meat. Be sure to leave the crisp skin on when you serve it (in other words, don’t be greedy and eat the skin before serving…).
It pairs up well with a vinegar-based potato salad, green beans or peas, and a squash mash (cooked squash – pumpkin, summer squash, butternut…mashed with butter and seasonings). Those could be cooked the final roasting hour of the duck.
See how simple that is? And you’ll be rewarded with not just a tasty duck, but the carcass bits to make duck stock for soup, and the duck fat for frying potatoes and eggs. Or use it to replace the vegetable shortening in making pie crusts for savory pies (pot pies!). Spread it like butter on rye bread and sprinkle on a bit of salt and sliced radishes for an open-faced sandwich (or tiny cocktail rye breads for hors d’oeuvres, with pearl onion, radish, olive, or scallion toppings, and maybe a thin slice of duck). Use it in a roux for making gumbo, pot pies, jambalaya, stews, or a sauce. Use it to make fried rice. Use duck fat to roast Brussels sprouts, beets, carrots, asparagus, kale chips, mushrooms, or rutabagas. Use duck fat for making duck confit (and then using the re-rendered fat to braise red cabbage and apples, mushrooms, green beans, potatoes, as a topping for toasts served with the duck, for scrambling eggs, or making savory quiches). Duck fat has lots and lots of uses.
So, anyway, once the fat is rendered and saved, and the duck is rested – serve it forth.
Duck is the perfect winter dish, where you want the oven on a long time for the warmth it adds to the house. It’s great for a romantic dinner for 2.
And oh my gosh – if you roast your own duck, you get that amazing duck fat! Duck may seem a little expensive when you buy it, because it costs more than turkey or chicken, but with all its many, many uses and the many ways you can then serve the duck, it becomes a very frugal dish.
You get to enjoy it freshly roasted, with its crisp, delicious skin. Then you get the leftover slices to serve as appetizers or sandwiches or for fried rice or to put in egg rolls. Then you can make a stock from the bones. Then you have the duck fat for sandwiches or sauteeing or pie making or sauces or the roux for stews or frying rice.
Two people can eat well off of a duck for at least a week, and often for two weeks. It’s a provident gourmet dish!