Thursday, May 10, 2012

Grandma's Roast Duck

A 4-5 pound duck will serve 4 people when served with a hearty serving of vegetables.
At no time is it more obvious to me that my mother’s side of the family is from eastern Europe than when duck is being discussed.  Most of my friends know duck only from Chinese restaurants where the crisped skin and tender meat is nestled into pancakes with plum sauce and scallions.  I love that both Chinese and Czech cuisines know how to coax out the fat from beneath the skin to cook up a dichotomous meal of juicy meat under brittle crisp skin.  

Every culture that celebrates duck has identified its local flavor counterpart.  Plum sauce and scallion cut through the unctuous tones of the meat in Asian cuisine.  The French have found that oranges do the trick as in Duck a l’Orange.  Tart cherries make me think of German or Austrian preparations.  Czech tradition calls for saurkraut cooked with onions and potatoes to accompany the bold meat. 

I recently used my grandmother’s recipe for roast duck that I had transcribed from her directions to me when we cooked duck together in the early 1980s.  I’ve updated it with a few tricks to help prepare the skin but her method remains simple and successful.  Next time you see fresh duck at the store, try her recipe.  She used a very sharp carving fork to pierce the skin while the bird roasts, releasing the fat to render a crispy skin.  I use a well-sharpened knife to do the deed.  The sharpness helps pierce the skin just to the fat strata so you do not pierce the meat.

If saurkraut is not your thing, place vegetables like quartered potatoes and carrot chunks at the bottom of the roasting pan for the last 1/2 hour.  This step adds some humidity and helps keep the meat tender while the skin continues to crisp.  Serve the duck with a tart fruit sauce made from dried cherries, marmalade and lemon for balance.

My grandmother would use the carcass and any leftovers to make duck soup.  I make a brie and duck panini with cherry-apricot relish.  The duck carcass joins chicken bones in my freezer for a future poultry stock.

Grandma’s Roast Duck
Serves 2-4, recipe is easily doubled. Roast birds side by side in a large roasting pan. 
1 4-5 pound fresh duck
2 stalks celery, halved
1 onion, quartered
1/2 small orange or tangerine
salt and pepper
1 cup boiling water

Sides: Prepared and rinsed saurkraut, par-boiled potatoes quarters, sliced onion or potatoes and carrots chunks, parboiled. 

  1. Remove duck from packaging and wipe inside and out with paper towels to dry off skin and meat.  Optional: place duck on a rack and refrigerate uncovered 24 hours to dry out skin.    
  2. Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Spray a roasting rack with spray oil to prevent sticking.  Salt and pepper inside and out of bird.  Place onion, celery, parsley and orange in cavity of duck.  
  3. Using a very sharp knife, score the breast skin just to the fat level in 4 1-inch slits on each breast.  Lightly pierce the thigh skin  also.  
  4. Pour boiling water over duck, especially the breast area and let water drain into bottom of roasting pan.  Roast with water in the pan at 350˚F for 1 hour.  Periodically, repierce skin with knife to release fat into bottom of pan.
  5. Check bird with a thermometer.  Your ultimate goal is 170˚F.  After one hour, the bird should read about 110-130˚F.  Once it reaches 130˚F, remove bird from oven and place bird with rack on a platter.  
  6. Drain duck fat into a dish to keep for later use*. Leave a tablespoon or two in the pan.  
  7. Toss together rinsed saurkraut, parboiled potato quarters and onion and place in the roasting pan.  Stir to coat vegetables with some duck fat.  
  8. Take duck off roasting rack and place it directly over the vegetables in the roasting pan.  Return duck to oven and roast an additional 1/2 hour or more until internal temperature of breast meat reaches170˚F.  
  9. Remove duck from oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.  Discard vegetables from cavity.  Use kitchen sheers to cut duck in quarters to serve with potatoes and saurkraut. 
*Duck fat can be used to saute potatoes and other vegetables.  It is very good with cabbage for example and can also be frozen for the day you are tempted to make liver pate. 

And here are my grandmother’s verbatim instructions for handling duck.  She did not use a roasting rack:
"In a roasting pan, place bird with a large onion, celery, parsley, caraway inside cavity.  Put a large glass of water in bottom of pan to stop sticking.  Cook for 1 1/2 hours at 350˚F.  Pierce skin frequently to release fat.  Serve with potatoes and saurkraut.  To make saurkraut, rinse it, then heat it up with some onion, and sugar maybe.”