Crispy Caraway Roast Duck

Crispy Caraway Roast Duck

Duck is like the pork of poultry, it has such great flavor and there’s almost nothing better than the skin crisped up. It’s my favorite bird to roast, and yet it’s perhaps the trickiest to do right. “Right” in my book is a whole bird with tender moist meat, a minimal amount of sub-dermal fat and a thin crispy skin coated in a sweet caramelized glaze.

To achieve a crisp skin, some recipes call for cooking the duck at a high temperature for an inordinately long time. While they do indeed produce wonderfully crisp skin, the drumsticks end up like duck jerky and the breasts become chalky and dry. Other recipes have you steam the duck then cut it up, roasting the legs and breasts separately. This works a little bit better as you can remove the breast meat earlier, but to me, this is not a roast. If you’re going to cut the duck up, why not just confit the legs and pan sear the breast?

I wanted a real roast that showed up at the table in one piece with succulent breasts, tender legs, and a crispy glazed skin. Most importantly, it’s a roast, so it had to be simple, without involving culinary acrobatics or acts of God to create. Desperate for a miracle, I hit up the omniscient Internet, only to be disappointed by the lack of good solutions.

Crispy Roast Duck for Christmas Dinner

In the end I decided to do what I do best: ignore all the rules and make up my own. When it comes to duck, conventional wisdom, like bringing the roast up to room temperature, works against you. Another counter-productive “rule” about roasting poultry is to avoid obstructing the entrance to the body cavity so hot air can circulate inside the bird. Both these result in more even cooking, which is desirable with most roasts, but in the case of duck, you want it to cook unevenly.

To understand this, you have to think about the anatomy of a typical Long Island duck. Between the skin and the meat, there is a very thick layer of fat. The best way to get rid of the fat (and crisp the skin in the process) is to cook it at a high temperature until the fat is rendered out. The problem is that the amount of time it takes to render out most of the fat is far too long for the meat underneath. That’s why you want the duck to cook faster on the outside than it does on the inside.

By chilling the duck and sewing up the body cavity, the outer layer (i.e. the skin and fat) gets very hot, while the meat underneath takes a lot longer to heat up. This means you get the fat rendered out, the skin crispy, and your breasts comes off the roast a lovely shade of pink.

Carving a Roast Duck

The one other problem I have with most roast duck recipes is that they have you drain the fat every 30 minutes. It’s considered a necessary step, otherwise the oil gets too hot and starts to smoke. The problem is that it’s messy, dangerous, and a big hassle. I’ve found that by continuing to add water to the pan, it keeps the temperature of the accumulating oil low enough that it does not smoke. At the end, you can still save the wondrous duck fat for other uses by pouring it through a tea strainer. You’ll have some liquid under the fat, but it doesn’t matter because it will separate, and the fat on top will harden in the fridge. You’ll get a few cups of fat and about a cup of concentrated duck juices by doing this, both of which can be used for something else.

Crispy Caraway Roast Duck

makes 4 servings
5 pound Long Island duck (aka Peking)
2 teaspoons mustard
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)

This is optional, but you can brine the duck first in a solution of water, sugar and salt. Click here for a brine recipe. This will flavor the meat all the way to the center.

Prick the duck all over with a sharp trussing needle. Try not to prick it through the meat, you just want to open up the skin so the fat underneath can render out. Pour a kettle of boiling water over the duck to tighten up the skin (you’ll see it shrinking).

Pat the duck as dry as possible using paper towels, then put it on a rack and stick it in the fridge for at least 1 hour. You want the duck to be cold with very dry skin when it goes into the oven as it will take a while to render out the fat from under the skin without overcooking the meat.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Take the duck out of the fridge and prick the skin all over again making sure you don’t pierce the meat. Pat the duck dry again with paper towels. If you haven’t brined the duck, rub a few tablespoons of kosher salt on the inside and outside of the bird. Sew the body cavity shut or you can use toothpicks or skewer to do it. You want the duck to cook from the outside-in, so sewing the cavity shut prevents hot air from cooking the inside.

Pour 2 cups of water in the bottom of a roasting pan with a V rack and place the duck on the rack, breast-side up. Roast for 35 minutes. Remove the duck from the oven and insert a wooden spoon into the body cavity to flip it over so the breast-side is down. Add another cup of water and roast for another 40 minutes. If the fat starts spatering excessively or begins smoking at any time during the roasting process, add more water to the pan.

Make the glaze by adding the mustard, honey, caraway and salt to a small bowl and stirring to combine (microwaving it for a bit will make it easier to mix). Remove the duck from the oven and use a pastry brush to glaze the duck. Flip the duck over, and brush the glaze on the breast-side. Add more water to the pan if it needs it, and put it back in the oven for a final 20-30 minutes or until the glaze is a nice dark brown, and the skin is crispy.

Serve the duck immediately (if you let it rest, the skin will get soggy).

Tip: If you want to keep the fat, just let it cool a little bit, then pour the fat and any remaining water through a tea strainer into a tall container (such as a pyrex measuring cup). Cover and refrigerate until the fat has separated and solidified. Now you can scoop off the fat and use it to fry potatoes (or just about anything you want improve the taste of. The concentrated roast duck stock at the bottom can be used to make sauces, or tastes great added to soups and stews.

  • James

    Chilling the duck first is such a good idea…you are a genius!

  • http://theindolentcook.blogspot.com/ the indolent cook

    I’m yet to roast my own duck… but I’m shelving away your tips for when I do one day!

  • http://geometricdelights.wordpress.com Luyi

    This is amazing.

  • http://sasasunakku.com Sayakachan3

    I might be missing something here but…how do you insert a wooden spoon into the body cavity to flip it if it’s sewn shut?

    • Anonymous

      Excellent point! I used the handle side and inserted it between the
      stitches, so don’t stitch it too tightly.

  • Thekitchenwitchblog

    I’ve never been brave enough to roast my own duck (or goose), except in the non-literal sense. I like the simplicity of this recipe, maybe now that it’s not so intimidating I’ll give it a try?

  • http://www.what-about-the-food.com Robin0red

    I enjoyed reading about your inspired solution to roasting a duck. Crispy wonderfulness!

  • http://smalltownoven.wordpress.com/ Sharlene

    Your blog namesake’s cooking philosophy really comes through in this dish. I only hope I could come up with a duck so beautiful!

  • http://mykeuken.blogspot.com Lisa H.

    Timely…. I just bought a duck(frozen)… thinking to cook it for Chinese New Year… love the colour :)
    Thank you :)

  • Jackie

    Amazing. One of my missions this year is to handle a duck and a goose – I’m definitely going to have a go at this! Beautiful photos too, Marc ;)

    Jax x

  • Tasteslikehome

    Oooh Marc… that’s all I can muster :)

  • http://www.girlparaphernalia.com Bailey Yamamoto

    Being French… we LOVE duck!!! I wish it was more readily available here, it’s a bit of a hit or miss to find it in the local super, so I have to go to a meat shop…. I don’t like fuss if I can avoid it (like having egg whites resting at room temp to create a macaron– not true). I had a question, I wanted to know if you use a light box as well, in addition to an umbrella? This looks utterly amazing… I wonder, what can one do with half a duck left over, my family simply doesn’t eat meat that much, besides me….

  • Kelly

    I love duck and this is some seriously great information on how to crisp up the skin (my favorite part) without compromising tender meat. Can’t wait to get in the kitchen and try this. Thanks for thinking it through for the rest of us!

  • Anonymous

    Your roast duck looks perfect! Thanks for the tip on chilling the duck and sewing up the cavity – does the same apply to other poultry?

  • http://dreamsofcakes.wordpress.com Eftychia

    So beautiful photos. I like your recipes very much, but even more the photos you take. I guess the taste of all these dishes is equally perfect!!

  • http://chicagosdomesticdiva.blogspot.com Alana D

    This seems like a good alternative to the sweet duck I always make.I’ll have to try it.

  • Familyfoodie

    This looks incredible! I will be trying this recipe! Love Duck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/janbenn Jan Bennett

    Wow that looks sooooo good! Very interesting post – I like the idea of adding water to the fat instead of having to keep draining it away.

  • http://twitter.com/emiglia Emily Monaco

    I love duck… thanks for the tips for roasting a whole one! Never would have thought of it… I’m the one fanning a smoking oven as the fat burns in the bottom lol.

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  • http://froginthecottage.blogspot.com/ frog in the cottage

    I love duck, yours looks delicious !!!

  • http://anediblesymphony.blogspot.com Muneeba

    I recently had such AWFUL duck at a restaurant, that I thought I might never be able to order it again (I love duck – what these ppl did to it was criminal) … but thank goodness for this post, where I can finally look at my beloved duck and think yummy thoughts again :)

  • HDorman63

    I cannot find a place to print the recipes. Please let me know how to do this.
    Thank you..

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Sorry, I don’t have a print function on the site yet. You can just cut and
      paste the recipe into Word or Text Edit and print from there.

  • Sboon

    This recipe sounds fantastic! I’ve also scoured the internet looking for recipes for cooking whole roast duck and have been disappointed….until now. Can’t wait to try this one…thank you!

  • Kyochan

    Matsumoto-san,

    Good tip arigato gozaimasu.  I will try this for our Thanksgiving.  I have been looking for a simple way of cooking whole roast duck without using honey ginger or orange sauce which most of other recipes do.   

  • Kmd

    Hmmm…maybe I didn’t poke enough holes, but poking holes didn’t release anywhere near enough of the fat. I am going to score the skin in diamond shapes next time, see if that gets it there.

  • Larn

    In china they blow air underneath the skin which separates it from the fat, so it will drain out easier. It can be done with an air compressor or bicycle pump, the Chinese chefs do it by mouth but they use a certain technique that requires practice

  • Jack

    Whole-roasting any large bird successfully indeed boarders on the impossible. Your approach is ingenious! The cooling, the scalding, the pricking of the skin… Here in Denmark we like to stuff the duck with apples and prunes. Would that not work as well as the sewing up – for retarding the heat from within?

    I read a lot of food-blogs – but yours is new to me, and a revelation – thanks!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Jack, welcome! Stuffing the duck should work well for slowing heat transfer to the center. Just make sure the stuffing reaches a safe temperature if you’re planning on eating it.

  • dedy oktavianus

    Finger licking good!
    btw, what kind of mustard do you use within this recipe, powdered or the ready salad dressing ???
    i learn a lot things here……
    Dedy @Dentist Chef

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Dedy, I used dijon mustard, but any prepared mustard should work.

  • Ric

    I was making duck for the first time, and at Christmas too so I was concerned that it had to turn out right first time. Hats off to you – this recipe/technique was perfect. Delicious skin and awesome, succulent meat. Many thanks for sharing.

  • smalls

    Sides? What would you recommend serving with this?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Mashed potatoes are always great with roasts and in the photos, this is served on a bed of Kale with Pine Nuts and Raisins ( http://norecipes.com/kale-recipe/ ).

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I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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