Cooking duck at home is a classic example of when my quest for perfection undermines the “tasty enough.”
For years, I strove to create the idealized vision of roast duck that I held in my head. It had to have crackling, burnished skin as crisp as a potato chip, and ruby-hued breast meat as rare as steak and dripping with schmaltz-glossed juices.
The best way to come close to this was through a technique I learned from Ariane Daguin, the founder of D’Artagnan, a gourmet food purveyor specializing in duck. First, I’d roast the duck until the breast was a rosy 130 degrees. Then, I’d pull the steaming bird out of the pan and hold it by the drumsticks to lop off its legs, which returned to the oven to finishing cooking while the breast rested.
The technique is brilliant. But it’s not the kind of greasy maneuver I necessarily want to undertake when company is over. After a cocktail, wrestling a hot, slippery five-pound waterfowl in a silk blouse does not make for low-stress entertaining.
Roasting a duck like a chicken, however, is a straightforward affair. And by incorporating a few tweaks, it can result in a bird that is easy to cook and thoroughly delicious — without any unctuous threats lurking.
One thing that differentiates roasting a duck from roasting a chicken is the duck’s prodigious layer of fat. This fat needs to render in the oven so it can baste the duck flesh and crisp the skin. There are two classic ways to help this along: pricking the skin or scoring it.
I’ve found that combining the two works extremely well, giving the fat even more opportunities to escape.
Ms. Daguin advises scoring the skin in a tight, crosshatch pattern so you get ¼-inch squares.
“The little squares get very crisp,” she said, “and the smaller they are, the nicer they taste.”
Another tip, she added, is to take a cue from the Chinese method of making Peking duck, and dousing the skin with boiling water. This tightens the pores, making the skin easier to cut.
Once roasted, the bird emerges with the skin golden, the meat tender and the fat melted and just waiting to meet any potatoes — a holiday meal both cook and company can rejoice in.
Recipe: Crisp Roast Duck
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