HOW TO PREPARE A SUCCULENT POULTRY MEAL
This story originally ran in the Winter 2014 (V8I4) edition of Yukon, North of Ordinary.
I first cooked a duck in a rented villa in the Périgord region of France, where ducks, black truffles, and Monbazillac dessert wine reign supreme. My brother and I dragged the rest of the family to a farm that sold whole duck, duck confit, and foie gras.
We purchased it all. My brother and mother, who are tough, seasoned gourmands, ate the foie gras; it was too rich for the rest of us. And the thought of the poor ducks being force-fed corn made all of us, gourmands included, feel jittery. (Many countries have since outlawed the practice.)
But we roasted the whole duck in a slow oven until it was brown and crispy, and everyone tucked in with gusto. A couple of nights later, my brother and I made cassoulet with the confit and tiny, beautiful haricot beans—another smash hit at the table. Over the next weeks, we ate canard in restaurants from Sarlat to Bergerac until we arrived in Paris and fell upon the moules et frites with relief.
DUCK HASN’T BEEN EASY TO FIND IN THE YUKON, BUT MORE AND MORE SMALL FARMS ARE SELLING DUCKS AND GEESE.
And there my relationship with duck ended until a couple of years ago, when Jonathon Lucas of the Yukon’s Grizzly Pigs Farm called and asked if I wanted a duck. It was a blackcapped Muscovy duck; Jonathan used to keep Pekin ducks, but a lynx kept eating them. (Pekin ducks are pure white and, therefore, more vulnerable to predators.) He switched to Muscovy ducks, which he used to raise in Scotland. The survival rate is higher, and, he says, “The meat is better.”
I liked the duck so much I bought a couple more in 2014 and demonstrated how to cook their breasts with a Madeira and cranberry sauce at the Frog Food Festival, held just outside of Whitehorse in early August. I also served rillettes made with duck confit, and the response to both dishes was enthusiastic. One couple said they’d given up on duck because it was so fatty, but felt encouraged to try again.
Duck hasn’t been easy to find in the Yukon, but more and more small farms are selling ducks and geese, and some of the butchers bring in duck breasts periodically from Hutterite farms in northern Alberta. It’s a timely moment to share some duck techniques that encourage use of the whole bird—duck fat and duck stock are fabulous staples to have in the fridge or freezer, and their preparation is a great project for a cold winter’s weekend, when outdoor activity is low on the agenda.
Be forewarned: the work is easy, but the time commitment is considerable. Be assured: it’s worth it!
For a list of duck suppliers, consult yukonfarmproducts.ca.
HOW TO COOK A DUCK
In the following recipes I’ve focused on how to cook a duck in pieces in order to gain the amazing by-products of rendered duck fat and a rich duck stock. However, sometimes you just want to roast a whole duck. Whitehorse resident Sophia Marnik directed me to this first-rate recipe for juicy roasted duck with a beautifully crispy skin that I’ve followed with great success: thehungrymouse.com/tag/duck.
SECTIONING THE DUCK
Refresh your butchering technique by watching a video online. (Try Maple Leaf Farms’ “How to Cut Up a Whole Duck” or “How to Break Down a Duck” at saveur. com.) You can also refer to an all-purpose cookbook like Joy of Cooking.
Wash and pat dry the duck inside and out. Trim off excess skin and fat with a sharp knife or poultry scissors and reserve. Section the duck into wings, legs, and boneless breasts. Wrap and refrigerate breasts and legs and consume within three days.
Duck fat is great to have on hand. It has a high smoking point, is lower in saturated fat than butter, browns food beautifully, and imparts a delicate, savoury flavour to everything it touches. Duck fat will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to six months and indefinitely in the freezer. It can also be reused after cooking; simply strain through cheesecloth and refrigerate again for the next batch of roasted potatoes or sautéed wild mushrooms.
To render fat, roughly chop skin and fat with a sharp knife, place in a smallish, deep saucepan, and render slowly over low heat without covering the pan. After a couple of hours, the skin will be reduced to browned cracklings and the fat will be a golden liquid. Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a heatproof container, cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. If you like such things (and I do) sprinkle the cracklings with salt, call in a friend to share, and eat right away for a crunchy, fatty, salty treat.
For instructions on how to make duck confit, see pg. 241 of my The Boreal Gourmet cookbook and follow the directions for goose confit. I’ve found there’s never enough fat from one duck to make a confit—another good reason to conserve every drop of fat while you’re cooking the first duck, and then make confit with the next.
Dark Duck Stock
1 duck carcass, including neck, if provided
2 duck wings
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 large parsnip
1 leek, white and light green parts only
1/2 fennel bulb
1 stalk of celery
2 tbsp. (30 ml) duck fat or olive oil
8 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
10 cups (2.5 L) cold water
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Rinse duck carcass, wings, and neck under cold running water and pat dry. Place on a baking sheet and roast until dark brown and aromatic (about 30–40 minutes). Pour off and reserve any fat that accumulates in a glass container by the side of the stove. (Remember to strain the fat through cheesecloth while it’s still liquid.)
- Wash and dry vegetables, then chop into small, uniform pieces and transfer to a bowl. Toss with duck fat or olive oil, then transfer to a baking sheet and roast in the same oven as the carcass until vegetables are browned and aromatic (about 25–35 minutes).
- Place browned duck carcass and wings in a large saucepan and pour cold water over top. If the water doesn’t cover the carcass, add more until it does. (Pour off and reserve any fat from baking sheet.)
- Bring to boil over high heat and boil hard for 10 minutes, skimming off any scum that accumulates.
- Reduce heat to medium low and add roasted vegetables, juniper, bay leaves, and cloves.
- Simmer very slowly—there should be one or two large bubbles that barely break the surface—for three hours. Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. If you have a fat separator, this is a greattime to use it. If you don’t, cool the stock to room temperature then refrigerate for several hours. The fat will congeal on top and is easily removed with a slotted spoon.
- Once fat is removed, transfer stock to a clean saucepan, bring to a simmer over low heat, and slowly reduce, uncovered, to half its original volume.
- Cool to room temperature, transfer to covered containers, and refrigerate or freeze. I find it most useful to store stock in quantities of 1 or 2 cups (250–500 ml). Will keep up to one week in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer.
Makes 4 to 5 cups (1 to 1.25 L).
Duck Breast with Port and Berries
For Muscovy ducks, which have less fat, it’s not necessary to score the skin of the breast before cooking, but you might want to do so for a Pekin duck.
2 6–8 oz. (150–200 g) boned duck breasts
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup (125 ml) Dark Duck Stock (substitute bison, moose, or beef stock)
1/2 cup (125 ml) port wine
3/4 cup (180 ml) fresh or frozen berries (try lowbush cranberries, haskaps, blueberries, or moss berries, or substitute seedless red grapes)
1–2 tbsp. (15–30 ml) cold, unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Place duck breasts skin side down in a cold, cast-iron frying pan. Turn heat to medium and cook breasts for 6 to 8minutes, until skin is crisp. Turn and sear the other side briefly. Turn so that breasts are skin side down once more.
- Pour the accumulated fat through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a glass jar and reserve. Place the duck, still in the frying pan, in the preheated oven and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove duck from the frying pan and allow to rest for 5 to 8 minutes.
- While the duck rests, make the sauce. (Remember: the handle of the frying pan will be really hot.) Pour off all but 1 tsp. (5 ml) of the fat and return the pan to the burner over medium-high heat. Add the port, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. (While the fat is still warm, pour through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean jar. Cool, cover, and refrigerate, as above.)
- Cook the port until it is reduced to about 3 tbsp. (45 ml), then add stock. Continue to cook until sauce is reduced to about 4–5 tbsp. (60–75 ml) of syrupy liquid. Add the berries and cook just until they release their juice (about 2 minutes).
- Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in butter 1 tbsp. (15 ml) at a time. The sauce should thicken slightly and become glossy.
- Slice duck breasts on the diagonal into 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) slices. Pour a small amount of sauce onto four heated plates and arrange duck slices over top. Finish with sauce, making sure each serving gets a share of the fruit. Serve with wild rice and steamed, lightly buttered greens, such as lacinato kale.
Makes four servings.
Duck Legs with Birch Syrup Glaze
1/4 cup (50 ml) pure birch syrup
2 tbsp. (30 ml) soya sauce
2 tbsp. (30 ml) rice vinegar
2 4–6 oz. (100–150 g) bone-in, skin-on duck legs
Salt and pepper
2 tsp. (10 ml) duck fat or canola oil
4 tbsp. (60 ml) white wine, such as Gewürztraminer or Riesling
- Whisk together birch syrup, soya sauce, and rice vinegar. Season duck legs with salt and pepper and place skin side down in a shallow pan. Pour marinade over top. Refrigerate for two hours, turning pieces periodically.
- Remove duck from marinade, reserving marinade. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Heat duck fat or canola oil in a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Add duck pieces, skin side down, and cook until skin is crisp (about 4 to 6 minutes).
- Turn once to sear the other side, then turn again so pieces are skin side down. Pour off fat and reserve. Place frying pan in preheated oven and cook duck for 60 minutes, basting with wine every 10 minutes and pouring off duck fat as it accumulates.
- While the duck is cooking, bring marinade to a boil in a small saucepan and reduce to a thick syrup. Reserve.
- Remove duck from oven, baste with half the reserved marinade, and return to the oven for another 25 to 30 minutes.
- Remove duck from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
- Drizzle duck with sauce and serve on garlic-mashed potatoes with a side of steamed green beans.
Makes two servings. Y