The Whole Duck, and Nothing But.
The other day, I was doing a quick shop in Lidl when I saw they had a special on whole duckling for roasting.
Now, if I want a good duck, I’ll get it from a local butcher. It’s worth the money because the bird is meatier and fattier – better for roasting as you’ll end up with much more of the succulent meat. But these whole ducks at Lidl were €8.00! For an entire duckling. I couldn’t pass it up. I mean, we are a family on a budget.
So I got this duck and wasn’t sure what to do with it. The thing about roasting whole duck is that the different parts are at their best cooked different ways. I like roast duck. The best I ever had was in an old restaurant called Hua’s on “Ghost Street” in Beijing – it was expensive, but the duck at this place was so good, my friend and I ended up ordering two. But I prefer a nicely seared, pan roasted duck breast and slowly confit’d duck legs.
So when I got home, I got out my sharpest boning knife and broke the duck down completely. I used every single part, getting four meals out of one bird. Here’s how I did it and what I made:
- Make sure the bird is right side up. That means, the breasts should be facing the ceiling and the legs should be facing you, the butcher.
- With a sharp knife, slice down either side of the breast bone (or the back bone). It’s found at the very top and goes vertically from one end of the bird to the other. Give it a good slice on either side.
- Once you’ve done that, choose a side to work on. Now’s the time to remove the breast meat. You probably won’t be very good at this the first time you do it (I would practise on some chicken first, since there’s less breast meat on a duck and you wouldn’t want to waste any). Using your knife, lightly scrape (don’t slice) down the side of the duck, leaving as little meat on the rib cage as possible. Once you have enough of a cavity made, you can use the tip of your knife to scrape down the sides. Once the breast is nearly severed, slice through the remaining skin and fat to remove it completely.
- Now, do the same thing on the other side to remove the other breast.
- Once the breasts are removed, it’s time to take off the legs. Use your hands to move the leg around. Once you feel where the hip joint is, give the leg a good twist to dislocate the joint. Once the joint is dislocated, use your knife to slice through. First, hold the leg to one side to tighten the skin around the joint, then slice through it. Once you’re through the skin, you can see where the leg joint naturally separates from the body. Use your knife and slice through the hip joint.
- Again with your knife, slice through the skin above the leg to see where the thigh meat is located. Once you see it, scrape down the rib cage until you’ve removed the thigh meat.
- Repeat this on the other leg until both are removed.
- Once you have the major joints removed, take off the wings. I just, again, find the main joint, give it a good twist to dislocate, and then slice through the joint with my knife, removing the wing.
- Now it’s time to remove all the skin and fat from the duck. There will be a lot of fat in the skin and a lot of fat in between the skin and meat and, also, just inside the cavity. Remove all the skin and fat from the bird and, also, clean the joints and breasts of any excess fat. Save all the skin and fat.
- You should be left with the carcass (the body cavity). You can use a larger knife to chop through the bone or, if you have a big enough pot, leave it whole. Congratulations, you’ve just deboned a duck.
Here’s what I did with the different parts:
- Lightly score the skin of the breasts with a sharp knife or razor blade. Season well with salt and pepper – rub it into the scoring marks. Leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Heat a frying pan on medium-high. You want the pan hot enough to render all the fat from under the skin of the breast, but not so hot that you burn the skin in the process.
- When the pan is hot, do not add any oil or butter. Lay the breasts, skin side down, onto the hot pan. The fat will render almost immediately and will begin to crisp up the skin. Let the majority of the fat render from the breast – cook it on the skin side for the majority of the cooking process.
- When the fat is mostly rendered and the skin is crispy and brown, turn over the duck and immediately transfer the pan to a hot oven (about 200 degrees Celsius). Depending on the size of the breast, cook for 7-12 minutes for a nice medium-rare.
- I served the duck with green beans amandine (made with lemon, olive oil and toasted slivered almonds) and a buttermilk mash.
The Skin and Fat:
- When all the skin and fat was removed from the carcass, I transferred it to a Dutch oven and immediately put it over a medium- low heat to slowly render all the fat.
- As the fat rendered, the skin got extremely crispy. When the skin was completely crisp and golden brown I knew all the fat had been rendered.
- I strained the duck fat into a container to save away and seasoned the crispy skin with some sea salt. I squeezed some sriracha chili sauce onto a plate and Pat and I had a delicious snack of crispy duck skin to eat while watching Game of Thrones (the best way to spend an evening, in my opinion).
The Carcass and Wings:
- I could have kept the wings and fried them for some crispy duck wings, but I didn’t really feel like it. I added them to the carcass, put the carcass and wings in a stock pot, added a chopped carrot, two chopped onions, some chopped celery, a few peppercorns, some whole star anise, some coriander seed, some lemongrass and ginger, a bay leaf and fresh parsley and coriander.
- I covered it all in cold water and gently simmered for 2 hours. It made a beautifully aromatic broth.
- I put the hot broth in the fridge overnight. As it cooled, the fat collected at the top of the container and I easily scraped it off the next day.
- I made pho with rice noodles, rose oyster mushrooms, crispy fried cod, scallion, basil, fresh coriander and sriracha. I seasoned the duck broth with lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, sriracha and some tom yum paste I had in the fridge. It was amazeballs.
- I saved this for last because I haven’t actually cooked the legs yet. They’re in the freezer. The duck fat is in the fridge. This Friday night I’m making duck confit with lentils and Toulouse sausage. Traditionally, you’d have duck confit with cassoulet but that’s a bit too much work for a Friday night!
- I’ll season the duck fat with bay, peppercorns and juniper berries before scooping it (cold or room temperature) over the legs. Then I’ll cook them in at a low heat in the oven for a few hours, until tender.
Say what you want about Lidl, but €8.00 for a whole duckling is a steal. They’re Irish ducks, too and they’re still available.