This Christmas, we were determined to do something we hadn't yet done before and as the holiday approached, I was pretty sure I knew what it was going to be. The above picture is of the frozen bird case at the local Safeway where we wound up buying our Thanksgiving turkey. It was full of things I never really noticed that you could buy at Safeway before I started growing a really adventurous heart when it comes to cooking at home -- geese, capons, and duck. There may even have been more options than that.
When I showed Seth that picture, he immediately latched on to the idea of having one of the above for Christmas, since we did wind up doing the turkey for Thanksgiving. I was totally on board with that because... dude! I've never roasted anything like that before and I'm always up for some new culinary adventures. After a lot of hemming, hawing, price comparison, and discussion as to what would be the best option, Seth eventually bought us a duck.
That's the duck in the new roasting pan my mom gave me for Christmas, getting all ready to go into the oven and make the house smell good all day long. As I'd never cooked a duck before, I did some research on how to cook it so that it actually stood a chance of coming out edible. I even asked in a LiveJournal group I belong to, as I knew there were people in there who had experience cooking these guys. Some of the excellent advice I took and some of it I didn't. You know how I roll.
If memory serves, I stuffed the bird pretty simply. Ducks aren't massive or anything, so they don't have a huge cavity. However, I really do prefer to stuff birds -- even little game hens and whatnot. This one got his body cavity filled with orange wedges and white onion. I briefly considered some rosemary from the garden as well, since it's one of our big staples. I eventually decided to just keep things simple though.
Ducks are really fatty little birds, so the trick to getting them to cook well lies in making sure they're prepared for cooking in a way that makes the most of that. I wound up scoring the skin slightly with a sharp kitchen knife. I've also heard of people simply pricking the skin all over. Whatever you do, you really want to open up that skin a little bit before you pop your duck in to bake. This allows some of the thick fat layer underneath the skin to render and self baste the bird.
I kept the seasoning simple as well, because I really did want to taste the duck. I think a light sprinkling of crushed black pepper went on there to start with, but not much else. Then into a pre-heated 350 degree oven it went! It took a couple of hours to roast thoroughly and it wasn't extra challenging or anything. I just followed the directions on the packaging, really.
I started off the cooking with the top on the roasting dish, but took it off toward the end of the cooking process so the skin could get properly crispy. Toward the end, I added a sprinkling of chopped parsley I had leftover from making garlic butter for the rolls. That was really about it! We served our duck with stuffing, roasted root vegetables, and pan-fried ancho potatoes. I also made a brown gravy using some of the duck fat as a base.
For something I really hadn't done before in any capacity, roasting this bird was really pretty easy. Honestly, because of the self-basting action that happens when you score the skin properly beforehand, it was easier even than cooking a turkey. It was also very good, very tender, and a refreshing change from turkey, chicken, or ham which we've had many, many times in the past.
If you have any leftovers, you're really in for a treat, because duck is apparently more flexible than I ever gave it credit for in the past. We got several meals off of this guy, actually. We used the leftover breast meat for cold duck sandwiches and wraps. What didn't get eaten of the leg and thigh meat on Christmas was later shredded and used as the basis of a chili at Seth's request. At first I wasn't sure using duck would actually add that much to the chili, but actually? It gave it a really deep, woody, rich flavor that added a lot.
Also, you really want to make sure you save and use all of the fat that renders out of the duck, because it's awesome stuff. You can fry potatoes in it or use it as the basis of a roux to name just two possibilities. Use it pretty much any time you require some fat and want to be blown away by a blast of kick-ass duck flavor. Really, I was surprised at how useful and flexible this bird was and I'm irritated with myself for not trying it sooner!
Next Christmas? I'm thinking a goose would be fun to explore. Possibly a pheasant. You just never know!