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Roast Duck 101

There's a world of intense flavor to be discovered when you choose to roast a duck instead of taking the tried-and-true path with chicken. Yet many cooks find duck intimidating.

The reason, in a word, is fat. Ducks wear a thick coat of it, and fatty skin is not a pretty prospect. Not to worry. After using our guide to roasting a duck, you'll have a crisp, bronzed bird ready for carving. Some of the duck fat will baste the meat. The rest of this liquid gold can be spooned off to cook with in the future (think roasted vegetables or duck confit).

A word about the varieties of duck most commonly available: Muscovy very often has a strong flavor that tends toward gamy, while the Pekin, or Long Island, is milder. Whichever bird you choose, it will be a delectable departure from the usual dinner.

Tools and Materials

  • 1 whole duck (5 to 6 pounds)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips with Chili Powder (optional)
  • Orange Marmalade Pan Sauce (optional)
  • Kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife
  • Roasting pan
  • Carving knife

Roast Duck 101 How-To

1. Line bottom of oven with foil to catch any spatters. Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in second-lowest position. Rinse duck in cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Use kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife to cut away fatty deposits and excess skin around neck area and just inside the bird's cavity.

2. Cut through last joint of wings to remove wing tips, and place them in roasting pan with neck (which is usually included with giblets by the butcher). Place wing tips and neck in a large roasting pan fitted with a rack.

3. Hold a narrow paring knife almost flat against duck's skin and make shallow pricks everywhere but drumsticks. Don't forget the areas where the thighs join the body. Score skin of breast in a crosshatch pattern. Season inside and outside of duck with pepper and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt.

4. Use a light touch with paring knife to gently crosshatch skin's top layer on breast side to facilitate release of fat. Be careful not to cut all the way through skin into flesh.

5. Place duck, breast side up, on rack in pan. Roast for 50 minutes.

6. Remove pan from oven. Set duck on rack in a sink or over a towel to catch drips. Spoon off excess fat from pan; strain, and reserve 1/4 cup if making roasted vegetables. Tilt duck to drain, pouring juices from cavity into roasting pan. To ensure even browning, turn duck twice during roasting. Use paper towels to lift bird from pan. Return duck, breast side down, on rack to pan. Roast for 50 minutes.

7. Flip duck, breast side up, and roast until duck registers 165 degree on an instantread thermometer, about 50 minutes more. Let stand for 15 minutes before carving. Spoon off fat from roasting pan (reserve if desired). Carefully tilt duck, and pour accumulated juices from cavity into pan. Reserve neck and wing tips in pan with juices if making pan sauce.

8. After duck has rested, place it breast side down on a carving board, and cut along both sides of backbone.

9. Flip duck breast side up. Slice along ridge of breastbone to remove meat. When you get to the thigh bone, sever the joint. Remove wings if desired.

10. Separate leg quarters from breast. Slice breast into serving pieces. Sever joint between leg and thigh.

11. Serve duck with roasted vegetables, and drizzle with pan sauce.

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Comments (1)

  • 7 Nov, 2013

    When I made Peking duck I was given a tip from the butcher about an easy may to get the fat out.
    He said before cooking to take a ball pump needle with a hand pump and slide it under the skin in several places 10 to 12 and pump air in, this will release the skin from the meat. It worked great, and I had a wonderful duck.