Roasted Duck

Sometimes I like to think of cutesy-esque headers for each blog post. Roasted duck does not need a cute title. It’s just perfection. Simple, pure perfection.

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I first had duck about two years ago at a Roanoke restaurant called Lucky. Specifically, it was duck leg confit. I remember we visited the restaurant sometime near winter, which means some cold weather in Southwest Virginia. And it was raining, which only added to that bone-chilling effect. Something warm was in order, something cozy. Lucky (which I’ve found has garnered some kind of reputation as a hipster joint, which couldn’t be further from the truth) prides itself on offering French comfort food in a gastropub-type environment. I had always wanted to try duck, but I was wary of all that fat. I’m the kind that carves fat off of my meat (after it’s cooked, of course, because not even I’m immune to the flavors some fat can impart during cooking). But, I decided to go for the duck that night because it just sounded, well, comforting.

That night started a love affair with duck. Roasted duck. Duck fat. Duck confit. It doesn’t matter the style, I’m in love. To me, duck trumps all other meat. It trumps pork. I know that’s blasphemy to meat eaters, but I’ll take a good piece of duck over the best bacon you could find.

And it’s all because of that fatty skin. What made me avoid duck for so long turned out to be the best part.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to roast duck at home. Because I eschew meat unless it’s raised locally and humanely, duck was off the list for a home-cooked meal. But a local farm from which I get our chickens started raising duck for meat, and I was among the first in line to buy one. Now, it’s not cheap. It’s a treat (which, let’s face it, really should be the norm when it comes to meat in general). It’s a glorious, succulent, sinfully crispy-skinned treat.

To roast duck, I stick with this recipe. But I stop short of glazing it. The first time I tried out this recipe, I actually had the glaze made as suggested. It was simmering on the stove, and my husband had a taste of it. And he made a terrible face. While I argued with him that the glaze was pretty tasty, the glaze burned. It was a sign, and my husband kept me from making a big mistake by trying to cover up the simplicity of a salted duck. So, the moral of the story is: the first time you roast duck, just go with simple. If you feel it needs something more than salt, go for the glaze the next time around. But this first time, just keep it simple.

Then hold on to your mother effin’ hats, because that first bite will be pure euphoria.

Yes, the recipe seems a bit labor intensive, but it’s really not. It really all boils down to scoring the skin/fat, roasting, flipping a few times, and pricking the skin at every flip to allow all that fatty goodness to drip down into the pan to collect later. It’s worth it, trust me. It’s all worth it in the end.

And yes, you should snip off the extra fat and render it as suggested. First of all, it’s super simple; just let the extra fat simmer in some water to render. Added to the fat that collects from pricking the roasting bird, you’ll end up with a good cup or so of fat, which keeps in the refrigerator for months and makes roasted vegetables (especially potatoes) insanely delicious. And it makes for some great cornbread.

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The recipe, I think, is pretty self-explanatory. There’s no need to elaborate, but do keep an eye on your duck to ensure you don’t roast it too long and end up drying out the meat. Once that skin becomes a gloriously golden, crispy, bubbling mass of glory, it’s time. The meat itself should be incredibly tender and cut like butter. Don’t doubt your instincts when it comes to roasting; cooking times are subjective and dependent upon the oven type, the size of the bird, etc., so don’t assume four hours of roasting is going to be the rule. Also? The fresher the bird in general, the less roasting time is required. Just something to keep in mind.

As far as sides go, this doesn’t need much other than some roasted potatoes and a simple salad. It’s the perfect fall meal, so as the weather cools, forget the hot chocolate, and go for the roasted duck.

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Duck, duck…FAT!

In this tub? Glorious duck fat.

You guys, while I’m knocking out posts covering my cooking/baking spree this weekend, can we talk about duck fat for a minute? Because it. Is. GLORIOUS. I know duck, particularly foie gras, has been catching a lot of attention in the culinary world. I’ve never had foie gras, I admit, so I won’t add my two cents about its possible ban. (But really? Really?! Do you know what’s in grocery store meat? Do you think it’s actually healthy to fatten cows with grain? Seriously? Those ducks raised for foie gras are raised better than anything that’s behind those glass counters at your local grocery store. Okay, maybe I won’t keep my mouth shut.)

Anyway, I may never have had foie gras, but I have had duck. And it’s, god, it’s just the best. I love pork, I like chicken, I eat red meat, but duck? It’s something else entirely. When done right, it’s melt-in-your-mouth sinful. And most of that is due to its high fat content. One day soon I’ll do a post about roasted duck, but for now, it’s duck fat. I picked up a tub of it at Two Boroughs Larder during our last trip to Charleston, and I now use it when roasting potatoes, among other things. It imparts a wonderful flavor, though it’s not overwhelming. Scooped out by the tablespoon, it looks like an even more decadent, fat-filled version of ice cream. And yeah, that’s because it’s pure, unadulterated fat.

Now, I don’t advocate smothering everything in animal fat, but a tablespoon or two here and there is a great treat and acts as a flavor enhancer, especially when roasting. Also? If you add the fat to a roasting pan and pop it in the oven as the oven heats up, the fat will melt, which further prevents your veggies from sticking to the pan as they roast.

I had some adirondack blue potatoes in the pantry from a recent farmers market trip (and I really do prefer this kind of potato; not only are they visually appealing but adirondacks contain increased levels of anthocyanins, pigments that act as powerful antioxidants [think blueberries]).

So, I sliced the potatoes, a red onion, and tossed them in the pan with the melted duck fat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Just roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

If you’ve tried duck fat and have some great suggestions for additional usage, let me know!