Roast duck is as close as we’ll ever get to “traditional holiday food” — my family’s traditional holiday food, that is. Except last year when we opted for grilled chicken and pork, we’ve been having roast duck on New Year’s eve for the past decade.
You’d think that, after ten years, roasting duck would be a breeze but that’s not always the case. There was a time, prior to 2008 for sure because it happened in our old house, when I forgot to place a dripping pan under the rack, the melted duck fat burned and there was so much smoke in the kitchen I thought I had burned the house. I did manage to turn off the oven, take the duck out and salvage the bird — but it did taste and smell smokier than usual.
Last New Year’s eve, it was another variety of dripping pan disaster.
In the old house, I had an Ariston convection oven. Electric. That was where the duck was roasting when the holy smoke disaster happened. When we bought this house in 2008, the space for the stove in the kitchen was much wider than the Ariston oven. So, we opted to install the old oven and hob in a second kitchen and we bought an Elba range that would fit perfectly in the wide space in the kitchen.
The Elba range came with a rotisserie. December 31, 2012 was the first time we used the rotisserie. Right. We waited four-and-a-half years to use it. Speedy said we’d roast the duck on the rotisserie so he prepared everything — tied the duck legs and wings so they wouldn’t hang loose during roasting, then snapped the clamps to close the duck in that whatchamacallit rod. He put the duck in the oven and I placed a large glass baking tray underneath to catch the drippings.
And then… Well, like I said, we had never used the rotisserie before. And it was kind of amusing to watch the duck go ’round and ’round as it roasted. I was right there in front of the oven, looking through the glass door, When the first drops of fat fell into the tray. And there was smoke as the fat started to burn in the dry glass. I remembered the holy smoke disaster in the old house and started to panic. I took a pint of tap water, opened the oven door and poured the water into the tray.
And the glass exploded. Not simply cracked and broke but exploded. Loud. Even Alex who had her earphones on heard it. I think I was in shock for about two seconds when Speedy came running into the kitchen. He looked inside the oven, asked what happened, I told him about the water and, for a split second, he looked at me like I was the craziest person on earth. He asked if I was hurt and I said I wasn’t. The oven walls contained most of the shards and I was quick to step back so nothing hit me. But we had to turn off the oven and clean it out before the duck could go in again.
The mess was a nightmare. Good thing that there was very little fat in the glass when it exploded so no grease dripped onto the oven floor. But we had to take everything out — oven floor and racks — and wash them. And Speedy used tongs to pick the pieces of broken glass.
The duck was as unscathed as I was. No shards at all. Figures, really, because it was moving ’round and ’round and the chance of a broken glass landing and sticking on a greasy moving object was, well, almost nil. Speedy took an aluminum tray and placed it underneath to catch the drippings. When he saw me standing in front of the oven again and watching the duck fat go drip drip drip, he told me to leave the duck and the drippings alone. He was really upset and said he didn’t want to spend New Year’s eve in the emergency room of some hospital.
So, I left the duck alone. I didn’t stand in front of the oven and look through the glass door until some hour-and-a-half later when I checked how much the duck had browned. Fifteen minutes after that, I turned the oven off, opened the glass door and started taking photos of the beautifully browned duck.
Speedy took out the duck, slid it off the rod and we let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.
And our New Year’s eve roast duck was just perfect. We had it Chinese style with pancakes, leeks, cucumbers and hoisin sauce.
New Year’s eve cooking lesson: NEVER pour anything cold into HOT GLASS. I had to learn that the messy and scary way.
Duck recipes and posts in the archive
Roast duck with tortilla wraps
Braised duck with mashed potatoes and gravy
Braised duck with pineapple, orange and ginger sauce
Duck and mushroom congee
Roast duck breast with creamed spinach
Duck cracklings and Chinese sausage fried rice
How to order Peking roasted duck in a Chinese restaurant