Roast duck: a recipe for the uninitiated

Often considered exotic or heavy, roast duck is actually a deliciously easy dinner entrée.

Bruce Bi/Lonely Planet/Newscom
Peking duck served in the famous Peking duck restaurant Quan Ju De in Beijing, China.

If it were true that you are what you eat, I'd have feathers, webbed feet, and probably be a better swimmer.

Any friends who have dined in my home over the years can attest to my fondness for duck. There's always at least one in my freezer. Two on a good day. And when they're on sale, out go the ice-cube trays and frozen pizzas.

My love for the canard goes way back to my preteen days. Every spring, Mother and I would head to Boston, where we would pick up three ducklings to bring home and raise for meat. It was an unsentimental exercise even though they were allowed to paddle in the bath with me and had free range of the garden.

In the following decades my fondness for duck has turned a culinary and international corner. I've supped on smoked duck in Bali; spicy breast of duck with spicy noodles in Singapore's night market; and in Taiwan, duck appeared twice in a 19-course meal, first as Peking duck, then hours later as duck soup.

Nothing, though, beats a simple crispy-skinned, succulent roast duck cooked at home.

I'm surprised when dinner guests remark that they have never served duck. "I've never even seen it at the supermarket," they might say. Or, "I haven't a clue how to cook one." Or, "Aren't they greasy?" Someone even remarked, "I thought you could only get duck in a French or Chinese restaurant."

My quick answers:

1. Ask. Check the frozen-food section.

2. If you can roast a chicken, you can roast a duck.

3. Prick the skin to release the fat.

4. You can prepare a duck dinner as good as one at any French restaurant. Here's how:

Serves 4
Note: If duck is frozen, it must be defrosted in the refrigerator, in its plastic wrapping, for two days.

4-1/2 to 5 lb. duck
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Chopped onion, celery, and 3 cloves garlic, crushed (optional stuffing)
Soy sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove neck, giblets, and packet of orange sauce*, if included, from cavity.
Pull any excess fat pieces from cavity. Cut away loose flap of skin around neck area.
Rinse duck inside and out with cold water.
Prick skin of duck all over with a skewer, toothpick, or the prongs of a sharp fork. Pay special attention to the fattiest areas around legs and thighs. Try to pierce only the fat, not the meat.
Place the duck on a roasting rack in the kitchen sink and pour a kettle of boiling water over the bird. This will draw out even more fat and ensure a crisp skin; drain and pat cavity dry with paper towels.
Loosely stuff duck with aromatic vegetables, if desired; truss, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place the rack and duck, breast side down, in a shallow roasting pan.
Roast for 20 minutes. Turn duck breast side up, brush with soy sauce, and continue cooking another 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees F. when inserted into thickest part of thigh or breast.
Brush duck with soy sauce every half hour or so while cooking.
Remove duck from oven, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest 20 minutes.
To serve, cut duck into two breast/wing pieces and two leg/thighs, using a pair of poultry shears. Or chop into four pieces with heavy chef’s knife or cleaver.
Serve with applesauce, sauerkraut, or red cabbage, and a selection of colorful vegetables such as carrots, beets, and green beans.
* I find the orange sauce to be overly sweet and cloying. If you use it, try diluting it with a half-cup of fresh orange juice and a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice.

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