I remember the day I bagged my last duck. It was a chilly October morning, a slight mist hanging in the morning air. I had dressed warmly, knowing I might have to wait for the perfect one. Settling down in a place I knew would provide a nice, fat mallard, I waited patiently. Suddenly, I saw movement on my right and used my call- “Hey, man, what time do y’all open?” “Not for another half hour,” he replied, so I left the Fresh Market and went over to Micky D’s for a buscuit.
Even though duck is available year-round, it’s mostly thought of as a cold-weather food, mostly because of its rich taste. The richness comes from the fact that ducks, like all game birds, have no white meat –only dark.Also, since ducks are basically cold-weather birds, they have a much higher fat content than chickens or turkeys.
The Chinese were the first to raise ducks in captivity for food use. Although there are many different species of ducks, all commercially produced ducks are descendants of two types–mallard or muscovy. The Long Island duck makes up almost half of all commercially produced ducks. It has a very long breast and a rich, full flavor. All the Long Island ducks in the United States are descended from three ducks and a drake that arrived from China on a clipper ship in 1873.
Since most commercial ducks are sent to market while they are young and tender, the terms duck and duckling are pretty much interchangeable.
Ducks sold as broilers and fryers are no more than 8 weeks old, while roasters are less than 16 weeks old. Domestic ducks usually weigh between 3 and 5 1/2 pounds.
Although you can sometimes find fresh duck in gourmet shops, more than 90 percent of commercial ducks are frozen. They should be allowed to thaw in the refrigerator before cooking. This will take between 24 and 36 hours, largely depending on the size of the duck.
To prepare a duck for roasting, start by rinsing it off under running water and throughally patting it dry. Remove any giblets and fat from the body cavity and prick the skin at 1/2-inch intervals, being careful not to prick the underlying meat. This will allow the fat to drain out as the bird cooks. Liberally season inside and out with salt and pepper. Never try to stuff a duck– all the fat produced during cooking will soak the stuffing and the result will be nasty!
The duck should be put breast-side down on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. At this point, to ensure a crispy skin, put the bird uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to allow the skin to dry out. I know this seems like a lot of work, but cooking a duck is a lot like cooking a turkey. It’s worth the effort, but not something you would want to do every day.
After taking the duck out of the oven, place it in a preheated 500-degree oven for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 425 degrees and continue cooking for about 30 more minutes, or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a meat fork. This will be about 155 to 160 degrees on a kitchen thermometer.
Commercially raised ducks don’t require basting while they cook, but wild ducks may need basting during the roasting process. To help get rid of some of the gamey taste of wild duck, rub them inside and out with lemon juice or a paste made from ground ginger and sherry.
As a duck roasts, its natural juices move toward the center of the bird, so make sure after you take the duck out of the oven to let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. Serve with a full-bodied red wine such as a merlot and you have a great meal to impress your guests.
Recipes for Leftover Duck