Dinner at Home
Divide and conquer
Cut up the duck to make leg and breast meat come out perfectly
Spiced duck with glaze: More than Sunday dinner fare, a duck in the oven warrants celebration — dining with friends, indulgent goodness and the art of cooking. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
My younger sister's friends surprised me recently when we gathered for an evening of girl talk. When the conversation shifted to food, which happens a lot when I am around, duck talk took center stage. Nearly everyone in the room loved eating it, most had attempted to cook it, and two had great fun boning a duck a la Julia Child. All lamented the excessive richness of most recipes and the fact that duck in this country is nearly always sold whole and frozen solid.
The banter got me wondering: What are the options to buying and cooking a whole bird, and could it be cooked with less overly rich results? First, I am happy to report that the Internet offers a plethora of raw (albeit frozen) whole ducks, boneless duck breasts (magrets in French cookbooks), "chops" made from boneless duck breast and duck legs. With so many options, duck surely deserves a shift from special-occasion fare to more frequent appearances on the dinner table.
I also found fresh duck breasts at the specialty market and boneless duck fillets in the freezer case of several supermarkets. The quick-cooking fillets have an enormous convenience factor. When I have time, I find cutting a thawed whole duck into boneless breasts and easy-to-roast legs easier than cutting up a chicken.
The beauty of cut-up duck? Crisp skin, moist and flavorful meat, moderate richness, quicker cooking, portion control, ease of service, attractive presentation. My holiday dinner just became a no-brainer.
I'll roast the legs until the fat renders out, the skin crisps and the meat is fall-apart tender. For the boneless breasts, just 10 minutes in a hot pan and then a final 10 in a superhot oven will yield medium-pink interiors and stunning flavor.
A blend of sweet spices seasons the duck pieces and fills the house with a great aroma while the duck cooks. Complementing the spices, a ginger glazing sauce finishes the duck beautifully. The glaze simply combines cooked shallots, wine and duck broth along with a generous portion of ginger preserves.
The duck recipe can be cut in half or doubled depending on the size of your dinner party. One duck proves more than enough for three but not quite enough for four. I like to offer a portion of thinly sliced breast alongside a crisp leg. This means there may be leftover duck breast, which makes stunning tacos, warm sandwiches or an incredible salad topping.
Spiced duck with ginger glaze
Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 1 1/2 hours
Servings: 6 (8 pieces)
Note: Ask your butcher to cut up the ducks if you prefer; indicate that you want two boneless breast halves, two whole legs and the carcass for making broth.
2 whole ducks, each about 6 pounds, rinsed
Poultry spice rub, see recipe below
Ginger glazing sauce, heated, see below
Fresh parsley sprigs
1. Rinse ducks; pat dry. Remove duck breasts by cutting down the breast bone with a very sharp knife and working the knife along the carcass to free the breast. Repeat to remove the breast on the other side. Use the knife to remove the legs at the joint. Save the carcasses to make broth.
2. Lightly coat the duck breasts and the legs with the spice rub, about 1 tablespoon per duck. Place on a rack set in a baking pan. Refrigerate covered, 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Set duck breasts aside. Roast the legs on the rack in the baking pan until the juices run clear, 1-1 1/4 hours. Let rest covered with foil while you cook the breasts.
4. Increase oven temperature to 400. Heat a large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet (or two smaller skillets) over medium-low heat until hot. Add the breasts, skin side down, in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook over low without turning until skin is crisped and nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Flip breasts skin side up; place in oven. Cook until medium rare (breast will be nearly firm at edges but still soft when pressed in the center), 10-12 minutes.
5. To serve, thinly slice the duck breasts. Some guests get a leg and a few slices of the duck breast, while others get all breast. Serve with the ginger sauce; garnish with parsley.
Per serving: 498 calories, 26 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 195 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 50 g protein, 415 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Poultry spice rub
Grind 1 1/2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon anise seed and 1 teaspoon whole cloves in an electric spice mill or mortar and pestle until a fine powder. Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt; mix. Makes: about 3 1/2 tablespoons
Ginger glazing sauce
Cook 4 finely chopped shallots in 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup dry white wine; boil until reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Stir in 2 cups duck or chicken broth, preferably unsalted or low-sodium; simmer over low, about 20 minutes. Dissolve 2 tablespoons cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water; vigorously whisk mixture into broth. Cook, whisking constantly, until boiling and thickened. Stir in 1/2 cup ginger preserves, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or more to taste), 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Taste; adjust seasonings. Makes: about 1 1/2 cups