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Just Ducky!

by Jane Worthington-Roth

We tend to get into ruts when it comes to Sunday roasts – the “usual suspects” always seem to appear: roast beef, roast pork, a roasted chicken… and perhaps a leg of lamb on that special occasion. The other day I wanted to make a roasted-something-or-other, but was tired of the usual roasts. I decided to make a roast duck.

Although my family eats duck breasts or duck legs fairly regularly, I rarely ever roast an entire duck. In the US, a common 1960’s era recipe for roasted duck has it coated with a sticky sweet orange sauce, the so-called “Duck à l'orange” or “Canard à l'orange” – called by Chef Gordon Ramsay “the culinary equivalent of flared trousers.” That was definitely not what I wanted to serve!

I love the flavor of duck meat and so I wanted to cook it as simply as possible so the rich duck flavor could shine. The first step was to find the perfect duck. In the freezer section of Labonne’s Market in Salisbury, CT they sell large ducks. Perfect! (These ducks are a lot bigger and meatier than whole ducks you may find wrapped in white-plastic in the big name grocery stores in the area. If you do buy one of the white-plastic wrapped ducks, please throw away the premade “orange sauce packet.”)

One concern whenever you cook duck is that it may come out very fatty or greasy. I’ll admit that my recipe may seem a bit odd, but it is a fool-proof method resulting in succulent duck meat with a delicious crispy skin. I call it the “poach-n-roast method.” You’ll poach the duck for 45 minutes, then roast it in a very hot oven for just a half-an-hour. This timing makes it perfect to serve for company, as you can poach it early in the day then roast the duck quickly while your guests are enjoying an appetizer!

Succulent Roasted Duck

1 large duck - If the duck is frozen, you will need to let it thaw in the fridge for a couple of days.
3 – 4 quarts of chicken (or duck) stock (or more depending on the size of your duck and pot)
Salt and pepper
You will need: a large soup pot, paper towels, roasting pan

Make sure you have a pot large enough to hold the entire duck while poaching, covered by an inch of water. Generally a large soup pot will work well.

With a fork, carefully prick the skin (not the flesh!) of the duck all over, especially in the fatty breast area. Remove any packet with “innards” from the duck (neck, heart, liver) and save for another use. Fully rinse the chest cavity with water.

Put the duck – cavity side up - into the large pot and add chicken stock to cover fully by an inch. This may require about 3-4 quarts of stock. Heat until it just begins to boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, cover the pot and poach the duck for 45 minutes. As it simmers, the excess fat will seep out of the duck.

When done, let the pot cool slightly, then carefully remove the duck from the stock. I find that wearing oven mitts and using two large sets of tongs usually helps me remove the duck from the stock. Be careful when tipping the duck over so that the hot stock can pour out of the check cavity back into the pot.

Set the duck aside to drain on a plate until you are ready to roast it.

The secret to a perfectly crisp duck is to carefully pat the skin dry with paper towels before roasting. This will also lessen the probability of any residual duck fat splattering in your oven and smoking while roasting. Do not skimp on this step! There will still be enough fat under the skin to seep out and nicely brown the duck while roasting.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. After drying the duck, salt and pepper it well, then place it a roasting pan, breast side up. To be on the safe side, put your oven fan on and roast the duck for 30 minutes. You’ll end up with a moist, delicious duck with nicely browned skin.

I like to serve the duck with braised red cabbage, sautéed carrots and homemade cranberry sauce.

You can save the poaching liquid for future use. Let the stock cool completely (setting it in the fridge works well to separate the fat from the stock). Skim off any fat that has risen to the top, then strain the stock into plastic storage containers. Freeze the stock to use as a delicious chicken or duck soup base.