Many years ago, I learned a brilliant, virtually effortless method for roasting duck from Mindy Heiferling, an inspired cook. Five hours of roasting in a low oven renders out the fat and makes the flesh tender enough to eat with a spoon, the skin crackling and crisp.
Recently, I revisited the recipe and found myself experimenting to see if I could get the duck even leaner and crisper. I did. Here’s the latest iteration.
This time, I tried salting the duck 24 before roasting and leaving it uncovered on a rack in the fridge (the rack allows air to circulate all around the duck). Since this method yields a crisper skin on roast chickens, I figured it would do the same for duck. If you are unable to start the duck a day or two ahead, try to salt it several hours before roasting. (This weekend, I’m trying a 48 hours salt and dry.) Add water to the pan seems to render out more fat and keeps it from burning.
I usually serve the duck with a cauliflower or celery root and apple puree and a simple salad of bitter frisee lettuce and walnuts, dressed with walnut oil and vinegar. For a bit of sweet, I make a simple confit of dried cherries cooked in Madeira or Marsala (below), which emulates the flavors of a classic cherry sauce for duck.
Recipe: The Ultimate Roast Duck
The directions only look long. Once you read through it, you’ll find that it actually requires little work, though you need to be home for the five hours the duck roasts.
Serves 3. To serve 6, roast two ducks.
1 Pekin (Long Island) duckling, about 5 1/2 pounds
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1 small bunch fresh thyme
Rinse the bird inside and out with cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Pull out any clumps of fat and discard. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and place on a rack on a platter, and in the fridge at least 4 hours, preferably 24 to 48 hours.
If possible, let the duck come to room temperature an hour or two before roasting. Preheat the oven to 300′.
Before roasting if you like you can trim the excess skin from the neck and hind cavity (you can leave it for an extra treat of crisp skin. Cut off the wing tips (freeze the neck and wing tips for stock). Rub the cavity with the garlic and stuff with the thyme. With a thin, sharp knife, pierce the duck skin without cutting into the flesh by inserting the tip of the knife on a sharp diagonal almost parallel to the bird. Make dozens of slits all over the bird.
Place the duck, breast-side-up, on a rack set resting on the edges of shallow roasting pan (1 ½ to 2 inches deep). Add 2 cups hot water to the pan (this will keep the fat from burning). Roast the duck for 1 hour. Using tongs and/or a kitchen fork, turn the duck over. Pierce the skin again, especially over the fatty pockets between thigh and body. Repeat this process every hour until the duck has cooked 4 hours until the bird is breast-side-up and golden brown. If the water evaporates, add additional 1 cup at a time.
Increase the oven temperature to 350’. At this point, I like to transfer the duck on its rack to a baking sheet for the final roasting. This prevents the rendered fat from burning and allows it to cool to be easily discarded. It also makes sure that the final roasting takes place in a very dry oven, with no moisture from the 1 ¾ cups of duck rath.
Alternatively, you can spoon or pour the excess fat into a measuring cup and use the original pan (just lift the rack with duck to a platter while you do this).
Cook until the skin is browned and very crisp, about 1 hour longer. Remove from the oven and allow the bird to rest 20 minutes before carving.
To serve, remove the herbs from the cavity. With a sharp chef’s knife, cut the duck into 2-inch pieces. Use a cleaver or kitchen shears to cut through the bones, which will be quite soft and full of succulent meat. Arrange the duck on a warm platter and serve at once.
Recipe: Confit’d Dried Cherries
Dried cherries are a wonderful pantry staple; they keep indefinitely and reconstitute quickly, providing inspiration for improvised dishes at a moment’s notice, like this play on the classic duck with cherries. Rather than making the usual involved sauce, I plumped and simmered them in Marsala until they taste like they were cooked in a rich, wine-laced stock.
1/2 pound dried cherries
2 cups dry Marsala or Madeira (Sercial or Rainwater
1 teaspoon duck fat or olive oil
1 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground black
Pinch of salt
A squeeze of lemon juice
Combine the dried cherries and Marsala or Madeira (Sercial or Rainwater) in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer over moderate heat.
Add the duck fat or olive oil to a medium saucepan or small skillet set over moderate heat. Add the minced shallot and cook, stirring, until translucent and golden, about 2 minutes. Add the cherries and Marsala and bring to a boil.
Cook at a low boil until the cherries are soft and glazed and the liquid is almost completely evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in thyme leaves and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Remove from the heat, and add salt lemon juice to pick up the flavors.