Making the Most of a Duck (Breasts, Legs, Fat, Stock)

Whole birds can be intimidating to us home chefs, but following instructions either online or from your favorite cookbook authority can make the process both simplified and rewarding. You will need a very sharp knife and a bit of patience, but if squeamish Cafe Drake can dissect the duck above, we're sure you can as well!

Once you've removed the breasts from the duck, and trimmed the excess fat and skin attached, the logical option is to pan-sear them. Cafe Drake began by coating the breasts with a spice rub of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, ground cumin and brown sugar. Searing is a cinch if you follow a few steadfast rules: place the duck skin side down in a cold cast iron skillet over a low flame. Slowly raise the flame to medium-low - never go hotter than this. Once the fat begins to render out of the duck you'll need to pour the excess into a handily nearby glass jar. We did this about 4-5 times over the 25 minutes it should take to sear off the duck breasts. Once the skin is very dark and crispy, flip the duck over and place in a preheated, 400 degree oven. Cook for just a couple of minutes or until the internal temperature is roughly 130 degrees. Please note: if you overcook the duck beyond medium-rare it will be tough and chewy. 

Cafe Drake served the duck breasts sliced thinly over whole wheat couscous, with braised Chinese cabbage and sweet potato raita as harmonious sides.

The accumulated fat from the duck breasts should be bottled and stored in the refrigerator for future use. Such as sublime roasted potatoes.

At this point you will have removed the legs from the bird and saved for future use. With the remaining duck, roast it for 45 minutes in a hot oven and place in a large stockpot. Cover the duck completely with cold water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, skim any foam from the surface and add to the pot: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot, 2-3 bay leaves, a few black peppercorns and a few whole cloves. Simmer on low for at least 90 minutes. Remove carcass and veggies from the pot and discard. Or give any meat/fat/skin remaining on bones to a beloved animal friend. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth and cool completely in the fridge. When the stock is very cold, scrape the accumulated fat off the top and either discard or treat your pet once again. Pour the stock into freezer proof containers and freeze.

Lloyd was very appreciative of all the leftover skin and fat trimmings from our duck.

Now, you're left with the legs. Within a few days try to cook them and embrace warmly their high fat content - sure it's excessively rich but hopefully you don't make these every day. At Cafe Drake we pan-roasted (again, over low heat) the two legs in a covered skillet for about 1 hour on each side. After removing the legs we fried an onion in the rich fat in the same pan, then added 1 large can of chopped tomatoes and 1 1/2 cups of dry red wine. The mixture bubbled away as we shredded the leg meat and returned it to the pan and sauce. All was seasoned with thyme, salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar and then tossed with fettuccine for a thick and luscious duck ragu (served as below to Jen Lazzaro with fennel-roasted onions and braised kale).


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