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A Good Roast Duck



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“We can learn to be cooks, but we must be born
knowing how to roast.”

~ Jean Anthèlme de Brillat-Savarin

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A Good Roast Duck

The Cook and the Gardener:
A Year of Recipes and Writings
from the French Countryside

Amanda Hesser, 1999, W. W. Norton & Company

“For some unknown reason I felt I had finally arrived as a cook when I could
roast a duck successfully. The duck, after all, is a significant culinary icon in
France. The French buy their bread, their cheese, and their charcuterie, but
any decent French housewife can roast a duck well, so that its skin is crispy
and buttery like puff pastry, its breast meat tender and juicy with a gamy
redolence, and its wings fried by the duck fat collected in the base of the
roasting pan.
Actually, Frenchman Jean Anthèlme de Brillat-Savarin is often quoted as
having said, ‘We can learn to be cooks, but we must be born knowing how
to roast.’ Maybe he was only talking about the French, because I certainly
learned how.
The French have an edge when it comes to duck roasting, partly because
their ducks are different from ours – they’re much less fatty – and because
the smaller French oven most home cooks have provides the necessary en-
closure to crisp the skin all around the bird. But technique also plays an
important role. Duck should not be drowned in all sorts of marinades and
seasonings. One herb, such as thyme, should be chosen and used generously.
A duck should be roasted carefully, not stuck in the oven and forgotten.
In short, pamper it.

Serves 4

One 5-pound duck
Coarse or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
10-12 sprigs thyme
2 cups Autumn Stock or water

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Remove any internal organs from the duck’s cavity and reserve the
neck, heart and liver. Using a butcher’s knife or a large chef’s knife,
chop off the wing tips with a strong downward stroke at the joint.
Save the neck and wing tips for making stock (Note: If you do not
already have Autumn Stock, you can make a stock using the neck
and wing tips while the duck is roasting. Follow the Autumn Stock
instructions, halving the ingredients and substituting the neck and
wing tips for the carcass. Use just 1 quart of water.)
3. Rinse the duck under cool water and pat it dry with a soft towel.
Season with salt and pepper both inside and out, then truss the bird
firmly with kitchen twine.
4. Find a heavy roasting pan large enough so that the bird fits comfort-
ably without being cramped. Rub 1 tablespoon of the butter over the
base of the pan and make a bed of thyme (all but three sprigs) on top
of the butter. Lay the bird on top of the thyme and put in the heated
oven to roast. About every 5 minutes for the first 20 minutes, turn
the duck a quarter turn to brown it evenly on all sides, ending with
the breast on top. The breast will inflate as the layer of fat beneath
it begins to melt. To ensure that the skin does not burst open, use
a skewer to make a small incision in the skin out of which the fat
can run. Baste the duck with the fat collecting in the bottom of the
pan each time you turn the duck. After the first 20 minutes of roast-
ing, turn down the oven to 350 degrees F. to finish toasting, about
another 45 minutes.
5. By now the duck skin should be turning a deep golden color, and
the fat in the pan should be sizzling exuberantly. This is good. Con-
tinue basting. If your oven cooks unevenly, change the position of
your pan, turning the pan front to back, or side to side, as needed.
6. Meanwhile, strip the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs and
reserve. In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter and heat until
foaming. Then add the liver and heart and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes,
until they are firm and lightly browned on both sides. Remove from
the heat and let cool slightly. Then cut them into small (about
1/8-inch) cubes.
7. The duck is perfectly cooked when the bird’s skin is a dark
mahogany-brown and the meat is tender. An instant-read ther-
mometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should read
160 to 165 degrees F. – remember, the duck will continue to
cook once removed from the oven. Or, using prongs to poke into
the side of the duck, lift the bird from the pan so that the juices
run from the chest cavity. They should run clear. If they are still
pink, continue roasting. Transfer the duck to the cutting board
and let it rest, covered loosely with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, make the thyme gravy: Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of
the fat from the roasting pan and discard the thyme sprigs. (Reserve
the fat, later straining it and letting it cool completely – you can use
it like butter for frying.) Add the stock to the roasting pan and bring
it to a boil on the stove over high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to
scrape up the pan drippings, where the flavor has concentrated into
sticky blotches on the pan. This is called deglazing. Reduce the stock
over high heat to a syrupy sauce, about 10 minutes; it should make
about 1/2 cup of gravy. This may not seem like much, but taste it: It
should be intense, syrupy, almost sweet from the caramelized drip-
pings. Stir in the chopped liver and heart and the thyme leaves.
9. Carve the duck into four pieces. You may want to slice the breast
thin so everyone can have some. Arrange the duck on a large serving
platter decorated with thyme sprigs, and pass the gravy separately.

Note:  Save the carcass and make more stock.

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