Roasted Duck Roasting a Duck

Roast duck is most popular in France, China and Southeast Asia. The most famous recipe is Peking Duck, but that's nearly impossible at home, and even for a restaurant involves special ovens, special ducks and conflicts with animal rights activists and health inspectors. Here we'll use a much simpler method appropriate for home kitchens lacking a large staff.


Birds
Birds

Duck
Ducks




General

The duck you buy at the market, the Pekin Duck, was developed in China around 950 CE and brought to Long Island over a century ago. Roasting a duck is different from roasting a chicken or turkey for a number of reasons:

  • You're not going to have to decide whether fresh or frozen because you'll probably only be able to get frozen.
  • You aren't going to have to ponder size so much because all the market will have is likely between 4 and 5-1/2 pounds, though I have seen a few as heavy as 7 pounds.
  • You need not make decisions about sex (the duck's, not your own - can't help you there) because they aren't labeled by gender.
  • Salting and/or brining are not needed.
  • Time and finish temperature aren't as critical because a duck isn't going to end up with cardboard breasts if you run 5 degrees over.
  • Ducks are seldom stuffed, and when they are they are stuffed with fruit. Turkey style stuffings would become saturated with fat.
  • Duck roasts to a much darker shade.
  • No sane person tries to roast vegetables in the same pan with a duck.
Equipment You Will Need:
  • An oven with good temperature control and sufficient room for the duck and its roasting pan.
  • A roasting pan. Highly preferred are shallow pans fitted with a V-rack, and with convenient handles on the pan and the V-rack. Disposable aluminum pans are dangerously flimsy and leave the duck soaking in oil.
  • Aluminum foil.
  • Rubber Gloves - these are for turning the goose over part way through roasting and removing it from the V-rack after roasting. Silicone oven gloves work but I simply won't pay the price asked for them, and they're too stiff anyway. Get the thickest set of flock lined rubber dishwashing gloves they have at your local market in size "large". These will do just fine if you are organized and work efficiently.
  • Meat thermometer with a probe long enough to penetrate to the center of the duck.
  • Kitchen twine for tying the legs together.
  • Bamboo skewers for pinning neck fat and wings.
  • Basting brush for the final glaze.
  • Knives   Forget the carving knife - the best knives for working with duck are a razor sharp boning knife and a santoku or similar thin sharp slicing knife. If you intend to cut it up Chinese style you'll need a razor sharp Chinese cleaver knife.
Planning and Buying:

Planning   A 5 pound duck, with a salad and a substantial side, will serve four. You don't have to plan as far ahead as with turkey or goose because duck will thaw pretty quickly and doesn't need salting or brining like a turkey.

Buying:   You'll probably be buying your duck frozen - unless you buy direct from a duck farm or live poultry vendor. The best place to buy ducks is in the frozen meat section of a large Asian market - they'll have plenty of ducks and the price will likely be much lower than in supermarkets.

Procedure

This recipe follows French practice - except I do the scalding Chinese way which I consider superior, and cooking times are American - the French like their ducks a bit on the pink side, which would give our USDA bacteriophobes fits. I intend to offer several Chinese "plug-in" alternatives to this recipe in the near future.

The object of the temperature changes is to first quickly set the skin so it is porous, then cook at a low temperature for a fairly long time and finally brown and crisp at a high temperature. If the low temperature phase isn't long enough the duck will be very tough.

Click Image for Larger
and more details.

Thawed
Thawed Duck

Giblets
Giblets

Tail Wishbone
Tail & Wishbone

Breast side Back side
Tied and skewered

Scalding
Scalding

Oven Ready
Oven Ready

Done Duck
Done Duck

Carved, Served
Carved & Served

  1. Thaw the duck thoroughly. Remove the shrink wrap (if packaged that way) and let it sit on a cool counter until thawed, or thaw it in cold running (or very frequently changed) water (see Note-1). Ideally your duck should have reached a cool room temperature just before roasting.

  2. Remove the giblets (gizzard, liver and usually neck), any easily removed lumps of fat, and cut off excess neck skin. Refrigerate or freeze the neck to use in your next batch of stock and reserve the gizzards for soup (dice small). Some French recipes use the liver for sauce, otherwise it's reserved for the cook. Fry it up in a little duck fat (rendered from the neck skin) and eat it with a sprinkle of lemon juice and salt.

  3. Prepare your roasting pan. Cover the V-rack with aluminum foil and punch a bunch of holes through it at the lowest points so it'll drain well and oil it (that duck fat from the neck skin will do fine).

  4. Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.

  5. Mix the basting liquid - 1T honey, 2T water.

  6. Rinse out your your duck and pull out any gookies or lumps of fat you can still find in there.

  7. Remove the wishbone (to make the front rounder and to make later carving easier). You can push back the skin at the front of the breast and use a sharp boning knife to cut around the top and sides of the wishbone, then bend it out and cut it free at the bottom ends.

  8. Cut off the wing tips - they'll just flop around and burn. Pin the wings to the side with small sharp skewers.

  9. Tuck the tail into the body cavity and tie the legs together with kitchen twine.

  10. Pin the neck skin with a bamboo skewer to close the front.

  11. Boil up plenty of water and scald the duck:
    French method:   Stand the duck in the sink and pour boiling water over it a couple times until the skin swells. Let drain.
    Chinese method:   In a wok, or better yet a kadhai (Indian wok), bring plenty of water to a rolling boil. Carefully lower you duck in back side down and ladle boiling water over the exposed parts for about 5 minutes. The French don't do it this way because they don't have woks.

  12. Set the duck in the v-rack back side down and slide into the oven. Let roast for about 15 minutes.

  13. Pull the duck out of the oven and turn breast side down (use the rubber gloves). Slide back in the oven and roast another 10 minutes.

  14. Turn the oven down to 325°F/160°C.

  15. Turn the duck breast side up and roast for another 40 minutes (for a 5 pound duck).

  16. Bring the basting liquid to a simmer and keep it warm. With a basting brush, baste the duck all over and return to the oven.

  17. Turn the oven back up to 425°F/220°C. Roast until nicely browned (about 15 minutes) basting three more times.

  18. Verify with a meat thermometer that the thickest part of the duck thigh has reached 165°F/74°C (see Note-2). A duck is small and will not have as much temperature rise during resting as a turkey.

  19. Remove duck from the roasting pan (rubber gloves, again). Pour the liquid inside the duck into a pan. It can be used for making sauces or whatever. Place the duck on a platter and let rest for about 10 minutes.

  20. Get any side dishes that need oven finishing into the oven.

  21. Cut the duck apart and slice the breasts - and cut other joints Chinese style if you wish (see Carving your Duck below. Use great care that the nice crisp skin doesn't get wet and mushy during this process - duck skin that isn't crispy is chewy.

  22. Arrange on a platter and serve
  Notes
  1. Thawing: Yes, all the books, recipes, cooking articles and "experts" scream "Never Do This!" but the rabid bacteriophobes at the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) say it's OK. Actual research has proven a cool countertop or cold running water thaw is less risky (on multiple counts) than thawing in the refrigerator, and far easier to time. The "Never Do This" recommendation is based on an FDA decree that has no research whatever to support it. If you find you just won't be ready by time it's thawed, put it back in the fridge before it is completely thawed.
  2. Final Temperature: Yes your thermometers and many of your books and recipes say fowl must go to 180°F/82°C - based on a USDA recommendation. That recommendation was reviewed in 2006 and the USDA could find no supporting data whatever, not even scribbled notes, to support the 180°F recommendation and now says 165°F/74°C is perfectly safe.
  3. Stuffing Temperature:   If you've stuffed the duck, and find the stuffing just isn't going to make it to 165°F before the duck is overcooked, pull the duck, scoop out the stuffing, put it in a casserole and return it to the oven while the duck rests and gets cut up.
  4. Rubber Glove Removal: To get those slippery gloves off just wash your hands with cleanser with the gloves on, then they won't be slippery, will pull right off and won't need further washing.
Carving your Duck
  1. Don't attempt to carve at the table - duck is just too awkward for that - you'll look foolish.
  2. As with a turkey you start by bending back the wings, then thighs and cutting them free where they meet the body, then cut the tendons to free the joint. The joints are much tighter than on a chicken or turkey and take some effort to dislodge and cut free.
  3. When cutting from the body the meat clings hard to the bones and the bone structure is convoluted and the whole thing is dark which makes it more difficult to see what you're doing. Use a small sharp boning knife, not a carving knife.
  4. Cut the breasts away from the breastbone. You'll find the keel is very shallow and the bone nearly horizontal which makes this a little more difficult than with chicken. Once you have the breasts off you're about done - there's just a little more meat for picking off the body.
  5. Once you've disassembled your duck you can slice the breasts - and do slice fairly thin because duck is chewier than turkey. A thin santoku is a much better tool for this than a conventional slicing knife. The flesh is firm and will slice well without breaking up. The "tenderloin" under the main breast will come completely loose - it has almost no adhesion.
  6. The second joint of the wing is so small it isn't worth separating the wing into two pieces.
  7. Once you've got it all sliced up, arrange the slices on a platter, perhaps roughly in the form of the duck as shown in the photo.
  8. If you wish you can debone the legs and thighs. The legs don't have tendon problems like turkey so they debone quite easily.
  9. Unlike chicken or turkey, it matters little which parts go to whom. There's no white meat and all parts taste pretty much the same - but duck is chewier so wings and legs should not go to people with bad teeth.

Chinese Way:

Bones are not removed - the Chinese are certain meat on the bone is juicier. Remove the leg-thigh pieces and wings as noted above. Cut away the back from the breast side - this is best done with your kitchen shears.

Chop breasts, legs, thighs and wing joints into slices, generally 1-1/2 inches wide and maybe a bit thinner for the breast. This chopping is best done with a razor sharp Chinese cleaver knife.

You're probably not a Chinese chef born with a cleaver knife in your hand, so don't try to do this free-hand. Carefully position the sharp edge of the knife at the point you want to cut, then drive the cleaver knife through with a blow from a soft faced mallet (plastic, wood or hard rubber). Preferably drive it through with a single blow to minimize bone splinters.

Safety Tips
  • Be prepared to handle dangerous quantities of very hot oil. The roasting pan must always be handled with great care lest it spill. Safe and proper basting tools should be used.
  • Observe cooking temperatures given above and take them seriously. Harmful bacteria multiply very rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, a range your duck will be in for most of the cooking time.
  • Do not let an uncooked duck come in contact with any other food.
  • When handling an uncooked duck, do not handle any other food until you have cleaned up all surfaces, tools and your hands, preferably using a little bleach or a mildly disinfecting cleanser.
  • The USDA recommends that leftovers should be in the refrigerator within 2 hours of coming out of the oven. In general that's just not going to happen, but try to keep close. If there are large amounts store in multiple smaller batches so the temperature will drop quickly.
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