Normally I could go on waxing poetic about the wonders of duck, but as of right now our relationship is tenuous at best. So to is my unflagging admiration of the Cooks Illustrated publications. I just spent over 2 hours of my weekend preparing what has to be the most complicated roast duck recipe ever and it just didn't live up to expectations.
I should first start off by explaining why I love duck so much. Not only is it incredibly flavourful, it's a self basting wonder-meat that comes out moist and juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside with little to no effort. Normally I'd just salt and pepper it, stick it on a roasting pan and pop it in a 350 degree (F) oven, forgetting about it until it is ready to serve.
My only gripe (if you can even call it that) with the ducks we get around here is that they are obscenely fatty. While a lot of the fat does render out, there is still usually more fat between the skin and the meat than I'm comfortable eating.
The other day, I was thinking about what would make the perfect glaze for roast duck. I was picturing a reduction of wine and mango creating a shiny caramelized sheen over the crisp underlying skin. Given my past issues with the fat content I also wanted to find a way to get the crisp skin and moist meat without the ticking coronary that usually comes along with it.
My first stop for any technique related question is almost always Cooks Illustrated. They'll literally test hundreds of combination's of ingredients, proportions, and cooking methods to come up with the "perfect" recipe. They've never let me down (until today), and I have to credit their publications for a good deal of culinary training. I flipped open my copy of The New Best Recipes cookbook and sure enough there was a recipe for "crisp roast duck" that promised less fat due to a 2 step cooking method. It seemed like a lot more work than duck is supposed to take, but I decided to give it a try.
To give you an idea of the Thomas Kelleresque amount of work that went into this recipe, you first steam the duck (to let some of the fat render out), then cut it apart, then roast (constantly removing fat from the pan), taking the breast out early then returning to finish. The roasting time (post steaming) seemed awfully long given that the steaming almost completely cooks the duck, but I was determined to see it through.
By the time the breast meat was supposed to come out of the oven (so the legs and wings could cook longer), the breasts were about 1/3 of their original size and were starting to look more like jerky than duck. I decided that enough was enough and glazed all of it and threw it under the broiler to try to limit the remaining cooking time. If I'd actually cooked it for as long as I was supposed to I'm sure I would have been eating cardboard.
While the breast meat was overcooked, the legs were still okay. The really disappointing part though was that the skin wasn't crisp at all (probably because I took it out of the oven prematurely in an effort to save the meat). The only part of the recipe that worked was that the meat was less fatty than usual.
I read and re-read the recipe to see if I'd done something wrong, but I had uncharacteristically followed the recipe exactly as printed. On my scale of personal cooking disasters, this was a 10.0 on the Richter scale. I wouldn't have even posted it were it not for the glaze that I made. Caramely sweet, slightly tart, and full of Asian flavour, it was about as perfect a glaze for duck as I can think of.
Next time, I do this, I'm going to try to steam it for a little less time (to get some of the fat rendering benefit without as much of the meat being cooked), then just stick the whole thing on a roasting pan to roast like normal. I'm also wondering if a slow roasting technique, like one you might use on pork shoulder, might work for duck (though I'm a bit doubtful because duck meat itself is actually quite lean without much marbling).
I'm not going to post the roasting technique since that part failed, but I'm curious to hear how you normally roast a duck?
- Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan and simmer until it's reaches a thick jam-like consistency.
- Salt and pepper the duck and roast how you like to. In the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, glaze the duck, turn up the heat and let the skin brown. If you have leftover glaze you can serve it with the meat.