I was at work the other day when this guy, Otis, flagged me down.
"Hey Melissa," he said, "any tips for cooking duck? Whenever I've tried it, it doesn't really work out that well."
Turns out he was roasting it like a chicken--just throwing it in a 375 oven and letting the heat do its work. Problem was he was getting tough, stringy meat, and was kind of turned off by all that fatty skin.
How DO you cook duck? There are a few recipes for it in the book--one is the fantastic Duck Legs and Carrots, where you submerge the legs halfway in broth (and carrots), leaving the skin cresting above to get nice and crispy. Another is Duck Breasts with Orange-Ancho Chili Sauce, which I loved so much I decided to marry. (You think I'm kidding, don't you? I'm not.)
And then of course there's the not-yet-embarked-upon Fragrant Crispy Duck, a day-long, multi-step procedure that includes the use of an electric fan. Stay tuned for that, but not today.
So here's the thing with duck. One troublesome area is the ginormous layer of fat on top of the very lean breast meat. The other is that the breast meat and the legs take to different cooking types of cooking--the legs like to be well cooked, while the breast meat is pretty awesome when it's seared on the outside and cooked to medium rare, just like your favorite steak.
I was curious to see how Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce would tackle this situation, and here's how they do it--using a Chinese technique called "twice-cooked".
And what does that mean, exactly? Well, it goes in the oven twice, but the first time is covered in a medium oven for a long time--2 hours--and then a high-heat finishing at 500 for 30 minutes or so to crisp up the skin.
This is how the first part goes: you loosen up the fat layer on the breast by sliding your fingers around in between the meat and the skin and prick it with a fork, the better to help the fat escape. Rub salt all over the duck, put quartered onions and celery ribs in the cavity, and sprinkle a little sugar around the sides. Then pour boiling water OVER the ducks (the skin tightens right up--it's kind of amazing) and fill the pan halfway. Then cover it up and throw it in the oven for two hours, pulling it out halfway to flip it over.
I have to say, my duck didn't look very promising when I took it out after this step:
It goes into the fridge after this for four hours to "firm up", and all of the cooking liquid goes in too--so the fat solidifies on top and you can get rid of it. And although this is a scary looking duck up there, take a look at the skin--looks like normal, right? No half-inch layer of fat. That's because the braising melted it all away.
When you've returned to this project after, say, doing your taxes or catching up on a season's worth of The Fringe, you start on the sauce.
That's 2 cups of fresh-squeezed clementine juice and finely sliced zest from the peel, which gets blanched in boiling water. The juice is brought to a boil with vinegar and suager, and reduced to about 1/3 cup. A little bit of this is set aside for the glaze, and then the zest and 1 cup of de-fatted cooking liquid gets stirred into the rest.
And now! The transformation! The duck is roasted at 500 until the skin is crisp, and then brushed with glaze. And--voila!
I know, can you believe it? Then there's some more sauce-finishing that involves shallots and Cointreau and whatnot--and the finished plate is--ta da!
It almost doesn't matter how it tastes because it looks so good but you'll be happy to hear it tasted as good as it looks. Which is saying a lot.
Otis--here's your duck recipe. You're welcome!