Duck for the Holidays

The other day I was on Martha Stewart’s radio show on XM with my good friend Betsy Karetnick and we were talking duck.  One of my favorite holiday meals is duck–especially for New Year’s Eve.  But it isn’t a very friendly dish to make for a crowd.  Here’s my way of doing it–saute the breasts and roast the legs.

Two-Way Duck with Pecan-Orange Wild Rice

Makes 4 servings

Make Ahead: Cut up the ducks, make the stock and sauce, and render the fat the day before serving. The duck quarters can be steamed up to 1 1/2 hours before roasting.

Roast duck is a popular dish at my house, but frankly, a single duck is really just enough for two people. When I want to serve duck to friends, fitting two birds into my oven just doesn’t work. I devised this solution, based on the way that many restaurants serve their duck: Cut the duck into parts, then cook each one so they are at their best. Roast the leg quarters until crisp, cook the boneless duck breast in a skillet until medium-rare, turn the boney carcass and giblets into a luscious classic demi-glace sauce, and render the excess skin and fat. Each one of these steps is very easy, so please do not be intimidated by the long recipe. I’ve also included suggested side dishes here, because they serve only four people, and the other recipes in the book are for larger groups.

•Like goose, duck gives off a lot of fat. In France, where the word “cholesterol” is rarely uttered, rendered duck and goose fat are prized cooking ingredients. To play along with the American phobia for animal fats, could certainly substitute butter or vegetable oil for the rendered fat in these recipes, but try the rendered fat, regarding it as a special treat.

•Pecan-Orange Wild Rice is the perfect side dish to duck. Wild rice varies greatly from brand to brand and it is hard to gauge its cooking time and rate of liquid absortion. Hand-harvest wild rice is expensive, but it has an excellent, robust flavor and firm texture. It takes somewhat longer to cook than the less expensive, machine-harvested variety. If you have excess liquid in the pot when the rice is tender, simply drain it off. On the other hand, if the rice absorbs the liquid before it is done, add more stock (or water) as needed. Because of these variables, it may be best to make the rice ahead of serving, and reheat it in a skillet or the microwave oven.


Two 5 1/2- to 6-pound Long Island (Pekin) ducks

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 quarts Homemade Duck Stock (page 000), made with reserved wings, giblets, necks,       and carcass bones

Pecan-Orange Wild Rice (recipe follows)

1. Prepare the ducks and stock the day before serving. Using a large heavy knife, cut off the wings and reserve. Reserve the giblets (but not the livers, which you can save for another use or discard). Chop the necks and wings into 2 to 3-inch pieces. Set the wings, giblets and necks aside for the stock. Pull out the clumps of fat inside the duck body cavity on either side of the tail, cover, and refrigerate.

2. Using a sharp, thin knife, cut off the leg quarters (thigh and drumstick together) at the thigh joints. Trim off away excess skin from the perimeters of the duck pieces and reserve the skin pieces.

3. Make an incision down each side of the breast bone. With the knife tip pointing towards the rib bones, cut away the breast meat (with the skin still attached), pulling the meat away from the ribs as you cut. Cut off the breast section at the wing joint and the bottom of the rib cage. Pull the skin off the duck breasts and reserve. You will have four boneless breasts and four leg quaraters. Season the duck with the salt, pepper, and thyme. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

4. To make the stock, using a heavy cleaver, chop the duck carcasses into manageable pieces to fit your stock pot, and use with the neck, wings, and giblets to make the duck stock according to the directions on page 000.

5. To render the duck fat, cut the reserved skin into thin strips and coarsely chop the reserved fat from the body cavity. Render according to the instructions Roast Goose with Port Gravy.

6. To make the sauce, place the duck stock in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until the stock is reduced to about 1 quart, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Transfer to a medium saucepan and boil until dark brown and thick enough to coat a wooden spoon (about 1 1/2 cups), about 30 minutes. (The sauce can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Reheat before serving.)

7. Fit a large pot with a collapsible aluminum steamer rack and fill the pot with enough water to almost reach the rack. Add the duck leg quarters and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam the duck leg quarters for 45 minutes. Remove the duck from the pot and transfer to a roasting pan. (The duck quarters can be prepared up to this point 1 1/2 hours before roasting, set aside at room temperature.)

8. Position a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 450°F. Roast the steamed duck, turning occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while the duck legs are roasting.

9. About 15 minutes before serving, heat 2 tablespoons of the rendered duck fat in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the duck breasts and cook, turning once, until lightly browned and medium-rare, 6 to 8 minutes. (You use a small, sharp knife to make an incision in the thickest part of the breast to check for doneness. Or, press the duck with your finger–it should feel somewhat soft in the center. The firmer the meat feels, the more well done it is.) Transfer the duck to a carving board loosely cover with aluminum foil. Let stand for about 3 minutes for the juices to settle.

10. To serve, using a sharp carving knife, slice each breast into thin diagonal slices. Slip the knife under each breast and transfer to a dinner plate, fanning out the slices slightly. (If you wish, serve a whole breast, unsliced, on each plate.) Place a duck quarter on each plate. Divide the wild rice and the spinach between the plates. Spoon some of the duck sauce around the duck, and serve immediately.

Orange-Pecan Wild Rice: In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons rendered duck fat over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup (6 ounces) wild rice, rinsed and drained. Add 2 2/3 cups Homemade Duck Stock (page 000) or canned reduced-sodium chicken broth, 1/3 cup fresh orange juice, the grated zest of 1/2 large orange, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover tightly. Cook until the rice is tender and puffed, about 1 hour. Be flexible with the cooking time, as it will vary with different rice. Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. If necessary, drain any excess liquid from the wild rice before serving hot. (The rice can be made up to 2 hours ahead. If necessary, reheat in a covered large skillet, over low heat, stirring often. Or place in a covered, microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on Medium-High or 70 percent power, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes.)


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