Roast it slow, and the oven does all the work! Serve with either a long-summered or quick sauce.
We don’t cook duck very often. We think of it as a holiday or special occasion dish. But we keep one or two in the freezer that we buy from a local farmer, and once in a while we declare a special occasion regardless of what the calendar says.
Roasting a duck is as simple as roasting a chicken, and it makes a lovely presentation for a simple dinner party with friends; you just need to do a bit more prep than you would for a chicken.
I’ve tried cooking duck many ways from pre-boiling the duck then roasting, to a fast, high temperature roast. I find the slow method may not be the quickest, but it is by far the easiest and best tasting!
Slow means more flavor
The slow roasting enhances the flavor and makes the duck really tender and juicy. We had a small dinner party recently, and my husband didn’t think our small bird would stretch, so he picked up an additional duck breast. Although I slow roasted the whole duck, I prepared the breast using my usual method of cross-hatching the skin and cooking it in a cast-iron pan slowly, for about 18 minutes, until the fat was rendered and the flesh medium.
The verdict of the diners was unanimous –– the slow cooked duck tasted better!
To sauce or not to sauce
This recipe includes a finishing cherry sauce, using the trimmings of the duck to create a rich stock fortified with wine and aromatics. This is not essential to enjoy the duck, but it is a nice finish. You can substitute blackberries or plums for the cherries and cherry jam. The sauce is not overly sweet, but enhances the flavor of the duck.
You can also make a much quicker sauce by using prepared stock and canned cherries, recipe below.
So, if you are going to be puttering around in the kitchen, make the scratch sauce. If you want the quicker version, use that instead. The latter is also great if you are just cooking duck breasts and have no trimmings to use as a base for the stock.
I got my duck at the farmers’ market, locally raised, and already frozen, and it didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles. Although I can sometimes find fresh whole duck at my local co-op, you will most probably find it frozen. The two most common types you will find are Peking (or Long Island Duck) which is milder in flavor than the more robust Moulard. A wild duck will have even more flavor, and that difference will vary from duck to duck depending on its diet.
To thaw, place the duck in the refrigerator in a container and let come to temperature for two or three days, probably the latter.
Render the fat
No matter the type of duck from wild to farmed, you will need to render the thick layer of fat under the skin or your duck will be greasy in flavor. To do this, you will need to prick the skin all over so the fat can escape the bird as it melts. Save this fat, it is a great vehicle for roasting potatoes and other vegetables and keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.
If there are no fresh cherries, use frozen, or a can of cherries packed in water.
Slow Roasted Duck with Cherry & Fennel Sauce
1 duck, 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 lbs., local if possible
Salt and pepper
Trimming from the duck
1 large onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
2 tbsp. tomato paste
3 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
1 quart water or stock
2 tbsp. corn starch
3/4 cup fresh or frozen cherries, chopped
1/2 cup cherry preserves
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F. Have ready a roasting pan fitted with a wire rack.
Prepare the duck. Remove the fat from the inside of the bird, there will be a lot. remove the neck, any large flaps of skin, and cut off the wing tips and flats. We’ll use these to make the sauce.
Place all the trimmings in a large skillet.
Dry the skin of the duck well.
Ducks have a thick layer of fat that you will need to render during the cooking process. Prick the skin every half inch or so with a skewer, sharp knife, or, my favorite, the ultra sharp little pumpkin carving weapon. You don’t want to pierce the flesh, just the fat layer, and I find inserting the sharp instrument at an almost horizontal angle works best. Do all sides of the duck, but leave the legs alone except where they join to the bird and have large fat pockets.
Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place on the rack and place in the preheated oven, uncovered.
Roast slowly for 3 hours. At the halfway point, remove the duck and give a few extra piercings.
Brown the duck. After the three hours, drain the duck fat (reserve this for other uses such as sautéed potatoes) and return the duck to the oven. Turn your oven up to its highest temperature to brown the duck for about about 10 minutes, keeping your eye on it so it doesn’t go too far.
While the duck cooks:
Brown the duck trimmings over high heat, then add the onion, fennel, carrot, and celery. Cook for around five minutes.
Add the garlic, fennel seeds, and tomato paste and cook for another two minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
Add the bay leaves, wine, and water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook while the duck roasts. Take the cover off the last half hour to evaporate some of the liquid.
When ready to finish the sauce, strain, skim off the fat, and return 2 cups to the pan. Bring to a boil, and reduce for a few minutes. Whisk the cornstarch in a little water to remove any lumps, and stir into the sauce, continuing to stir for a minute or so.
Remove from the heat and add the cherries and jam, mix well, then finish with the vinegar. Test for salt. If you want this a little creamier, add a knob of butter off the heat and stir in gently.
Carve the duck and serve the sauce alongside.
The Quicker Cherry Sauce:
You can make a quick cherry sauce by combining in a saucepan: a cup of turkey or chicken stock and 1 1/2 cups of canned tart cherries, packed in water, and their juice. reserve 1/4 cup of the juice for the slurry. Mix well and add, a couple of tablespoons of red wine, 1/2 tsp. ground fennel, 1/4 cup cherry or other jam, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil.
Dissolve two tablespoons of cornstarch in the remaining cold cherry juice, mix well, add it to the cherry mixture. Cook until thickened, just a minute or so. Finish with a little balsamic vinegar and a knob of butter.
While it looks heartier, a skinless piece of duck breast has less fat and cholesterol than chicken breast! Ducks are abundant in many minerals and vitamins including iron, selenium, a range of B Vitamins, zinc, potassium, and phosphorous, and is a good source of protein and glycine, an amino acid. The skin is contains about 1/3 saturated fat and 2/3 monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat.
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen.