What the Duck?

Duck has always seemed intimidating to me, like trying to tell my grandma that the idea of boiled eggs in my potato salad makes me gag or using the weight machines at the gym. The disapproving looks I’ve received in both of those situations are remarkably similar.

I thought duck was one of those things that you only get in restaurants. It’s also not particularly common on restaurant menus in the US. For this reason, when I was in France over the summer I quickly learned that canard = duck and from that moment on ordered canard any and every way I saw it. In three weeks, I was likely responsible for the loss of an entire flock. I love me some friggin’ canard.

I get tired of the endless chicken, pork, and beef. Sure, I throw in some lamb or turkey here and there, but when I saw frozen ducks available in my local grocery I decided it was time to conquer some new protein.

When done right, the meat is tender, and the skin has lost its thick, fatty texture in favor of crispy browned perfection. I learned in a cooking class outside of Toulouse that the path to perfect duck skin is paved with pricking. In that class we cooked a duck breast, you may recognize it in the featured photo for Off-baste. Scoring or pricking the skin gives all that fat an avenue to follow out of your duck and into your pan and WE WILL NOT BE THROWING IT AWAY.

Repeat after me: I (state your name), solemnly swear to NEVER throw away duck fat.

Whew- now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can rejoice in the large amount of duck fat we are about to stock up on. Seriously, that’s one of the major benefits to cooking duck at home. Duck fat potatoes? Hell yeah. Spread on toast like butter? Definitely. IV delivery directly into my bloodstream? If only.

Ingredients:

  • 1 duck
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 oranges
  • Bamboo skewers (don’t eat them please)
  • 2 shot-glasses worth of prosecco (very classy measuring devices, I know)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy (I used mushroom soy because I love the earthiness)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon chili-garlic paste
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary (stems removed)
  • ½ tsp beef Better than Bouillon paste (because I’m convinced it should go in everything)

The Breakdown:

  1. Preheat your oven to 300 F. I used the convection setting.
  2. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Remove wing tips, neck, and giblets from the duck, set aside to make duck stock later.
  3. In a large bowl or roasting pan, pour the boiling water over the duck. Don’t be like me and accidentally pour some on your own foot because it hurts like a bitch. Exercise caution.
  4. Discard the water and place the duck on a rack in a roasting pan to dry off. Wet skin is the enemy of crispiness and crispiness is key to a good duck. I also dabbed my duck with paper towels to get it as dry as possible. Let the duck sit and air dry for a few minutes.
  5. Season both the cavity and the exterior of your ducky friend liberally with kosher salt and black pepper.
  6. Zest the oranges and put the zest to the side. Quarter the oranges and stuff the cavity of the duck with as many as you can fit (my duck fit six).
  7. Juice the remaining orange half into a small saucepan, straining to remove pulp and seeds.
  8. Once the duck is stuffed and seasoned, seal the cavity with bamboo skewers. You can see my method in the photo below, use your best meat-sewing technique.
  9. Prick the duck all over with a paring knife, piercing the skin and fat layer but NOT THE MEAT. Duck has an insane amount of fat, which you want to be able to seep through the skin as it cooks.
  10. Roast the duck in the oven for 1 hour breast-side down.
  11. Take the duck out, prick all over again, flip it over, and roast it for another hour. At this point, my duck registered 170 and was done cooking. Depending on size and the number of ducks you cook at once, this time may vary.
  12. Remove the duck and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. During this time, prepare your glaze and crank the oven temperature up to 450.
  13. Add the chili garlic paste, soy, honey, prosecco, rosemary leaves, and orange zest to the saucepan with your orange juice.
  14. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and allow to reduce, whisking gently to prevent burning, while the duck rests.
  15. Brush the duck all over with your glaze and then roast it in the oven, breast up, for 8 minutes until well-browned and beautiful. Reserve any left-over glaze.
  16. Carve your duck and serve over wild rice, drizzled with any leftover glaze.
  17. Once it has cooled, pour the fat into a tupperware and refrigerate overnight. By the next morning, the sediment should have settled to the bottom and you can easily separate it from the fat. Store the fat in the fridge and use on.. everything.

duck 2

Have you ever seen something so beautiful?

For my first foray into the world of canard, I was pretty proud. It wasn’t perfect; I burned the dickens out of my foot and I cursed my oven once or twice, but it was a very useful (not to mention tasty) learning experience.

Lesson 1: Check your duck temperature sooner rather than later. When I was researching duck cookery, most recipes suggested low and slow for about three hours. This mother-quacker was done (ever so slightly over, actually) AT TWO HOURS. I have a few theories here: I did use the convection oven setting, which shortens cooking time and I only cooked one duck (cooking two at once would add to the cook time). I was PISSED that I overcooked my duck with literally an hour left before most recipes said it would be done. Upon carving and eating the duck, I discovered that my error was hardly noticeable, the duck was still moist and delicious, but I wish I had pulled it out and checked it earlier.

Next time, I’ll be checking the temp every 30 minutes starting after the FIRST hour. I will also be cooking two ducks at once because it turns out one duck is just not quite enough food. They don’t have as much breast meat as commercial chickens and the thighs and legs are smaller. Three of us had no issue polishing off the whole thing, and I like leftovers. If you’re making duck for two, go for it. If you want to feed more people or have leftovers, you’re gonna need another Donald and it’ll extend your cook time.

Lesson 2: Score the skin over the breasts. I thought that pricking mine would be sufficient, but with the breast being the fattiest part I think it needed to be scored to really release all that fat. The skin was good, but not that perfect shattering-glass crispy.

I will say that the glaze is a born star and will not be changed. If I’m being totally honest I only made it because I saw a bottle of prosecco in the fridge and needed a good excuse to open it and pour myself a glass. It ended up being by far the best part and was absolutely delicious as a finishing sauce of sorts. It was sweet and spicy, gentle enough not to overpower the dish but assertive enough to hold its own against duck’s gaminess. It was well received by the fam.

If any of you have ever made duck and have tips or tricks, I’m all ears! If you haven’t, don’t be intimidated. It’s delicious and well worth the effort. Now that I know it’s not so bad, I look forward to adding it to the rotation and trying a few more variations. As always, I’ll keep y’all updated.

An important end note: Don’t toss that carcass either! When you are done devouring your duck, save the carcass along with the neck, giblets, and wing tips and make stock out of that sucker. Waste not, want not. Duck broth made on the stovetop (or ideally, in the InstantPot) is not to be skipped.

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