What The Duck?


I love duck. I loved it the first time I had an exquisite dish of Peking duck at a wedding rehearsal dinner for my cousin, when I was maybe ten or eleven years old. Since then it’s been a favorite for sentimental reasons, and for the simple flavor when it’s done right. Which doesn’t always happen, and it’s sometimes a crap shoot on whether you’re going to get a great meal or something gamy and fatty. For that reason, I’ve avoided trying my hand at the yummy waterfowl. A while back, however, my Mom gifted us with a frozen duck, and a couple of weeks ago I tried out Martha Stewart’s recipe for roasted duck, and it turned out to be a delectable success (with a big messy drawback, but more on that later).

The main trick with duck is dealing with all the fat that the birds need to survive the cold and wet environs where they make their home. Some cross-hatch scoring on the breasts, and lots of shallow knife pricks to allow exit room for all the fat, are all that’s needed, along with a high oven temperature to keep the skin crispy and the insides moist.

Because of all the fat, there’s no need for olive oil or butter: the bird can roast without further addendum. Martha advised to cover the bottom of the oven with something to catch any splatter, but that seemed a bit too Martha for me, and an unnecessary step, so I popped the bird and the roaster into a 425 degree oven for the first 50 minutes of breast-up roasting.

It turns out Martha was right and not just being overly cautious when she advised putting in some foil to catch the splattering. It was a huge mess. And the smoke… oh the smoke… it was everywhere, and it got into everything. It’s not a horrendous smell, but it’s pervasive and lingering, and the lengthy cooking time only prolonged the ordeal.

After the first 50 minutes, you turn the duck over and cook for another 50 minutes. More splatter, more smoke – lots of each. Then you turn it once more so the breast is back on top, and you cook for another 50 minutes – total cooking time of 150 minutes for an average bird.

At the end, I let the duck rest for twenty minutes or so, during which I roasted some parsnips and sweet potatoes in some of the rendered duck fat. (Save the rest – it’s to die for.) I also took the time to make an orange marmalade sauce, which is the most important part of the whole dish. Orange and duck is one of the finest pairings my mouth has ever enjoyed.

For all the deliciousness of the final product, I don’t think I’ll be doing this again anytime soon. I’ll save the smoke and oven mess for the restaurants.

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