If you’re frantic to make up for something you said, especially if family is involved, this recipe will at least distract them for awhile.
Behold, the humble duck, the lesser-known cousin of the roast chicken or Thanksgiving turkey, both quintessential in traditional American cuisine and featured far too often during the holidays.
More famous than the grouse or Cornish game hen, roast duck (or more often seen, duck breast) is one of those dishes that everyone talks about and occasionally orders in a restaurant for $40 a plate. Sometimes you can order a duck meal kit from an online store. Occasionally, you see one on TV.
But there is some mystery to the wonderful waterfowl. They are more difficult to process on-farm because the feathers don’t come out as easily (it’s their waterproof nature), they have long necks and there isn’t a booming duck market here in the US unless you live in a ducking city with a ducking Chinatown. It’s also true that duck can be intimidating to new culinary enthusiasts, but if you ask me the reputation is far from ducking warranted.
What’s the big deal?
Duck is absolutely delicious. Its meat is darker in color and richer in texture with an oily, tender, luscious flavor profile. When cooked correctly, duck melts in your mouth like the insult you wish you threw that one time. The deepened poultry flavor lends itself to aggressive notes, whether it be fermented chilies or your favorite mustard with buttered toast, and is always a welcome addition to your in-law’s table if you’re looking to make up for last night’s political rawl.
How do you prepare it?
This one I like to call: Ducking Monday.
Because we’ve all had one.
At your local asian market, locate one whole duck and prepare for the roasting session. Alot three hours for this process to be completed, and don’t duck this part up: too much time will leave you with a dry, greasy, stringy result and you’ll be both $18 short and frustrated.
Once at room temperature, you have to score the skin of the duck breast in a cross-hatched pattern to help render the fat, keep the skin from curling, and make you look like more of a professional than you really are or ever will be.
Salt the duck on the inside and stuff the cavity with a fistfull of thai basil and two stalks of lemongrass. Halve a lemon, shove that in too. Halve a shallot, see if you can fit both halves in.
Now, for the rub down: take your favorite chili paste (make sure there’s oil in it) and rub generously all over the duck — front, back, sides, neck and head until it looks glassy and angry. If your chili paste doesn’t have oil in it, blend it with your favorite melted butter and add some fish sauce.
Place breast-side up in a baking pan and break both wings to fold them underneath so they don’t burn immediately. Bend the neck underneath the wing so the head and beak are protected from the heat. The whole roast may be lopsided slightly in the dish.
Place in an oven preheated to 350 degrees and leave for an hour, because Sleeping Beauty tosses in her sleep. After one hour, flip the napping mistress over so the back is facing up. Reglaze with additional chili paste if needed, and keep some water on hand to pour into the pan if needed to prevent the skin from burning.
Over the next hour, get saucy: pour equal parts pineapple juice and orange juice into a small saucepan, add a few tablespoons of chopped garlic and enough dark soy sauce to darken the color of the sauce to a light caramel. Reduce the sauce over medium heat until the bubbles on the surface are touching and rising slower than your mother’s suspicious eyebrows.
Once hour two is done, flip the bird again and shut the oven off, but leave the duck to rest for another half hour. Carve as you would a chicken and drizzle the sauce, or serve in a dish for dipping on the side. Leftovers are perfect for hot and cold duck sandwiches on sourdough, or shredded and stewed in their own fat like they own the place and served as tacos.
Don’t waste the fat: the drippings from your duck, unlike those of your close relatives, are liquid gold. Using it to fry eggs, make cheese sauces, cook potatoes and saute anything will greatly improve your relationships, benefit your bank accounts and may even get you the mayoral nomination. But that’s only if you share, and I suggest you don’t. It’s that ducking delicious.
Kate Barcellos is a culinary enthusiast and reporter who lives in fear of okra and canned spaghetti.