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A special French method of cooking duck at home

By Edward SchneiderSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 18, 1982

If you buy a frozen duck, it often comes with the simple cooking instructions to put the bird into a moderate oven and roast it for 2 1/2 hours or so.

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The result may be edible but it is far from what roast duck can be. Cooked too long, a duck can be on the dry side while, paradoxically, its skin is generally not as crisp and brown as it should be.

Many restaurants serve ducks by cooking them in advance and putting the individual servings under the broiler as they are ordered. That yields a crisp skin, but again the flesh is overcooked and dry or even stringy.

Some restaurants, on the other hand, serve amazing brown, crisp ducks with moist succulent flesh.

Some years ago I asked the chef of one of these restaurants, Andre Soltner, owner of New York's Lutece, how he did it. ''My only comment,'' he said, ''is that it works very well but makes a lot of smoke, so if you have an exhaust fan use it, or leave the windows open.''

Dry the duck thoroughly and brown it in a heavy skillet over a medium-high flame. Be sure that all surfaces are browned. The whole operation will take a good 20 minutes, in the course of which a great deal of the bird's fat will run off.

It can be poured off as it accumulates in the skillet. Save it, incidentally: It is good for frying potatoes or potato pancakes. This browning can be done some little while in advance.

Now put the duck on a roasting rack into an oven preheated to at least 500 degrees F., even 550 if you have the courage. Leave it to roast for 45 to 55 minutes, and that's that. A fat-free, crisp, moist bird, and in half the time.

Paris's La Tour d'Argent has made its reputation on a single dish: its pressed duck. That excellent dish makes use of the two ends of the duck in two different ways: the whole bird is par-roasted, the breast meat is carved and its cooking finished in a sauce made from the crushed carcass and an array of other ingredients.

After the breast meat has been eaten, the legs are served as a separate course, simply broiled. One duck for two people, but two very different preparations from one duck.

The recipe I am going to include here outlines only one of the many possibilities for flavorings and garnishes. Duck Dinner For Two 1 duck, fresh, not frozen Vegetable oil 2 medium carrots 1 stalk celery 1 large onion 2 cloves garlic 6 black peppercorns Parsley Thyme Salt and pepper 3 tablespoons vinegar (see recipe for types) 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

The first thing is to remove the two breast cutlets, leaving the skin intact on each, and then to remove the legs. Your butcher or poulterer might be asked to do this if you are fearful of doing less than a neat job. Ask him to give you all the fat and the carcass and giblets as well as the two legs and two steaks.

Chop up carcass and make some brown duck stock. Brown bones, gizzard, neck and heart in a little vegetable oil. When they are a good brown color add carrots, celery, onion and garlic, all chopped coarsely, cook. Add peppercorns, a good third of a bunch of parsley, and half a teaspoon of dried thyme into pan and add water to cover. Bring to the boil and let stock simmer for about an hour , skimming occasionally, especially for the first 20 minutes or so.