Chosen Bites: Just Ducky

Executive Chef Laura Frankel teaches you how to cut, prepare and cook a kosher duck.

Duck 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Duck 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Very few things are more delicious than duck. Its sweet earthy flavor is more powerful than that of a chicken, but not quite as bold as that of beef. Duck’s unique taste is easily complemented by a variety or grains or potato dishes, and it is especially delectable when paired with assertive fruit and vegetable side dishes. When I want to impress customers and guests or looking to satisfy my own craving for “big” flavor I reach for duck.
Most importantly, duck is versatile. Whether it is roasted as a whole (as described in my book Jewish Cooking for All Seasons) or cut up with the breast and leg/thigh pieces prepared differently, this meat can never disappoint. I particularly enjoy using two different cooking methods at once. This technique brings the added advantage that the flavors and texture of the duck really shows off the meat. The breast with its crispy skin and moist flesh is a constant source of inspiration for new recipes and constant cravings. The leg and thigh, when properly confited, are a playground of texture and flavor.
However, the unfortunate challenge with kosher duck is that it is always found frozen and whole. This requires a bit of planning ahead and a fearless plan of attack. Cutting duck is not hard, but like many kitchen skills has been replaced with purchasing cut up pieces. I love duck and want you to as well-so grab your sharpest knife, thaw your duck and brace yourself. Here we go!
Preparing your duck
Place the duck breast side up on a cutting board with the legs facing you. (The breast side is plumper than the backside). Locate the breastbone that runs down the center of the duck. Cut a line as close to the breastbone as possible down the entire length of the duck. Gently scrape your knife along the body; this loosens the meat without cutting into it. Follow downward with your knife until the entire breast is cut away from the bone.
Repeat with the other breast.
To remove the legs and thigh; cut the piece of skin that attaches the leg to the bones. Bend the leg slightly to loosen it from the joint. Cut the skin on the back and remove the leg and thigh. Be sure to save any pieces of fat to render for confit and sautéing potatoes and vegetables.
Not your Mother’s Sweet and Sour Duck
The sauce is similar to an aigredoux (sweet and sour) but with attitude. Plan ahead if you are going to try this recipe as kosher ducks are always frozen. You can also serve this sauce with chicken or fish if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
For the sauce
-Olive oil or duck fat
-2 shallots, peeled and chopped
-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
-½ cup white wine
-1 cup chicken stock
-1 cup blood orange juice
-¼ cup lemon juice
-1 bouquet garni of fresh thyme, rosemary sprig and parsley stems tied with kitchen twine
-Salt and Pepper
1.    Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Lightly coat the pan with olive oil or duck fat. Sweat the shallots and garlic until they are soft, translucent and very fragrant. Add the white wine and reduce by ½.
2.    Add the chicken stock, orange juice, lemon juice and bouquet garni. Reduce by ¾ or until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Adjust seasoning with a bit of sugar if needed or more lemon juice. Remove the bouquet garni and discard. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper.
3.    Add the citrus sections and the duck legs and warm over low heat until the duck legs are warmed all the way through.
4.    Serve over rice or potatoes
5.    The sauce may be stored, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
For the duck
-2 ducks cut into 4 pieces each (legs/ thighs attached and breasts) have your butcher do this or see my description in Jewish Cooking for All Seasons  (John Wiley and Sons)
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs I like parsley, thyme and rosemary)
-2 cups of rendered duck fat or combination of duck and chicken fat
-Freshly ground pepper
1.    Place the leg/thigh pieces on a sheet pan or in a shallow casserole. Rub the skin side with the herbs. Place the leg/thigh pieces in the refrigerator, unwrapped overnight.
2.    Preheat oven to 200 F.
3.    Gently wipe off the herbs. Place the duck pieces in a deep pan. Cover the duck with the duck fat. Place the duck uncovered in the preheated oven. Cook for 3 hours or until the duck meat is almost falling off the bone and very tender.
4.    Gently remove the duck with a slotted spoon. Strain the fat and save it. The duck fat can be frozen or stored in the refrigerator for up to one year.
5.    Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Score the skin of the duck breasts to allow the fat to render out. Place the duck breasts skin side down in the pan. Slowly render the fat out of the breasts while pouring off accumulated fat. When the breasts are rendered and the skin is crispy and brown, turn the breasts over and finish cooking for another 6 minutes for medium rare or longer for better done temps.
Serve the duck confit with the duck breast and the sauce with your favorite rice or potatoes.