Some quite accomplished home cooks are unsure how to cook a duck and this curious fact is the same the world over. However, the answer is quite simple and provided a couple of essential, yet simple instructions are followed, roasting a duck is really not a whole lot different to roasting a chicken.
1. Remove the duck from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels until it is quite dry.
2. With a small, sharp knife, make a few small pricks in the duck’s skin, say about a dozen in total around the breast and the thigh and in particular where the thigh butts up against the wall of the breast. This is important as it will allow the duck fat to render out and the skin to crisp up ( in the same way as we do for pork belly ). Then rub a very light amount of oil on the bird and season with plenty of salt and some pepper. This is also important as the salt will help draw out the fat which in turn crisps up the skin. Preheat the oven to a medium hot 180degC.
3. Place the duck in a shallow roasting tin, preferably elevated on a trivet or an oven tray, or pop it on top of a bed of sliced orange to lift it up a little to allow the hot air to circulate underneath. Then allow the bird to roast uncovered in the upper part of the oven for 40 minutes a kilo. Most ducks weigh around two kgs. So, if the size on the pack says 2.1, then it weighs 2.1kg and it will take around 85 minutes to cook. You want the skin to crisp up, so if your oven isn’t very hot then blast it for the first 20 minutes at 200dgC to encourage the fat to render out and the skin to start and crisp up.
4. When the time is up, it’s the moment to see if it’s cooked or not. So remove it from the oven and prick the bird with a sharp knife between where the thigh joins to the body, hopefully to see the juices running clear. If there’s still a lot of blood then return it to the oven for another 20 minutes. If the skin is not crispy then up the oven temp to max and return for another 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Finally, remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before carving. If you are leaving it for only 10 minutes before carveing then do not cover the bird with foil as this will make the skin soggy which is NOT what you want.
6. Carve the duck as you would a chicken. There are subtle anatomical differences, such as the thigh finishes much higher up the rib cage and the wings the same, but essentially you won’t go wrong if you just carve it up as if it were a strange chicken.
Don’t Throw Anything Away
A duck will continue to delight way after you have actually eaten your fill from the initial roast. Tip ALL the cooking juices into a jar and refrigerate until the fat ahs separates and risen to the top. Then scrape out the fat which will keep in a sealed jar for months in the fridge and may be used to roast potatoes to fantastic culinary effect, imparting a deep rich flavour. The jelly at the bottom of the jar underneath the fat may be used as stock or gravy or the base for any number of sauces as it is rich and deep in flavour, like a jus.
For the carcass itself and all the bones on the plates…you simply must save and use them. Pop them in the biggest pot you have, cover with water, season generously and thrown in a few herbs (whatever you’ve got), roughly chop an onion (skin and all) a couple of carrots, some celery (or any other root vegetable), bring it all to the boil on the hob, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for three to four hours to make your duck stock. Then sieve the solids out and return the liquid to the pot, turn the heat up to a boil and reduce the amount of duck stock to a concentrated flavour that you like. I tend to reduce by around 80% to make a densely flavoured stock, which takes up less room in the deepfreeze. So place the reduced stock in small jars, freeze and use for soups, sauces, stews, bolognaise, curries (instead of beef or chicken stock). Duck stock is the finest of all the stocks and is extremely versatile.
ALTERNATIVE: Duck may be slow roasted if you prefer, just turn the heat down after an initial 200degC 20 minute blast and cook for three hours at a slow 130 to 140degC.