Duck may look like a larger chicken but it tastes nothing like chicken. Duck is all dark meat — including the breast. The skin contains a lot more fat than chicken skin.
Yes, duck is tastier than chicken and there is no better way to cook it than to roast it whole.
We roast duck at home a few times a year (my birthday, our wedding anniversary and New Year) and here are some of things I have learned.
Buying a Whole Duck
Depending on where you are in the world, duck may be bought freshly slaughtered or frozen. My father was partial to freshly slaughtered duck. He’d drive to the market before the crack of dawn to get the best bird. When he got home, he’d scrub and rinse the duck to get rid of impurities especially on the skin.
I, on the other hand, am a frozen duck girl. I’ve no patience with the additional work of scrubbing and rinsing. I want my duck clean and ready to be seasoned. I’ve tried a few brands but Maple Leaf duck is the easiest to find.
Depending on where you buy your duck (or depending on the brand), the duck may include the head, the feet, the gizzard and the liver. Always read the print on the package to see what you’re getting.
If using frozen duck, thaw it in the refrigerator. A completely frozen duck will need at least 24 hours to thaw.
Stuff the cavity to add flavor
Duck meat is already flavorful and rubbing it with salt and pepper, inside and out, is often sufficient. But if you want to go the extra mile, you can stuff the duck’s cavity with aromatics. They will flavor the meat and make the bird smell really good.
If you opt to stuff the cavity with aromatics, chop the stuffing ingredients into fairly large pieces so that it’s easier to remove them later.
Alternatively, cooked rice is a great duck stuffing. Toss cold cooked rice with salt, pepper, your preferred spices and chopped vegetables (mushrooms work especially well) and stuff the bird with the mixture. Because the cooked rice will no longer expand, you can use as much stuffing as the cavity can contain. By the time the duck is done, the rice stuffing has become a perfect side dish.
Just remember: whatever you stuff into the duck’s cavity, secure the opening with wooden toothpicks. You don’t want anything to fall into the rendered fat where it will get fried and burned. The next section explains the rendered fat better.
A Roasting Rack is Essential
It’s a mistake to roast a whole duck without a roasting rack. In the heat, the skin renders a lot of fat and if the duck is just lying on a baking or roasting pan, the rendered fat will form a pool at the bottom. The hot fat will fry the bottom portion of the duck and the bird will be unevenly cooked.
So, place the duck on a rack and place a baking pan underneath the rack. The pan will catch all the drippings. It will also allow the hot air to circulate evenly around the bird. For easy clean-up, you can line the pan with aluminum foil before positioning the rack over it.
Cooks have different techniques for roasting duck. Although, as a general rule, the cooking time is 20 to 30 minutes per pound, the oven temperature can be anywhere from 350F to 400F. But ovens vary and those with fans tend to brown the duck’s skin faster.
Personally, when using a gas oven, I start at 400F then lower the temperature to 375F after 10 minutes. I get the best browning results that way. With a fan-assisted electric oven, I stay at 350F all the way.
Whatever temperature you like to roast your duck in, remember to preheat the oven well before putting the bird inside.
How To Tell If the Duck is Cooked Through
Just like chicken, duck is cooked through when the juices in the thickest portion run clear. However, testing the duck for doneness that way will require you to take the duck out of the oven during the last half hour or so of roasting so you can pierce the meat and observe the color of the juices that ooze out. Doing it every ten minutes or so is no joke because the entire contraption — duck, rack and tray — is heavy and there’s the danger that the rendered fat will spatter or, worse, drip. And, if you start testing way before the duck is done, you might break the skin with the repeated piercing.
If you want to take guesswork out of the equation, use a meat thermometer. Insert it at the thickest part of the meat (I prefer the thigh). When the temperature reads 330F (165C), the duck is done.
What To Do With the Drippings
By the time your roast duck is done, a lot of fat from its skin would have formed a pool in the baking tray. Don’t throw it out. Duck fat so flavorful. Cool the fat and stain into a jar with a screw-type cap. Keep in the fridge and reserve for later use.