The Beginner’s Guide To Cooking Duck; Everything you need to know about buying duck and cooking it to enjoy!
Many home cooks have tried their hand at duck only to find that it wasn’t all it’s quacked up to be. This flight of fancy comes because it was widely assumed that cooking duck was the same as cooking chicken.
It was a quack’s idea that consistently fowled dishes. However, it can’t be denied that duck is delicious, however, it doesn’t mean winging it. So how exactly do you cook duck? And waddle make your dish truly wonderful? To help you paddle along, dive into this introduction one of the most wonderful forms of poultry available.
What To Know About Cooking Duck
Before you go buying a choice cut of the most expensive duck you can find, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with when you’re cooking a duck.
The first tip is not really a “tip” so much as common knowledge among cooks, and that is the simple rule that fresh food will always yield a better result than frozen. When you freeze meat you’re doing something to its molecular structure, and then thawing it out and cooking it on top of that is likewise going to affect that structure. Some molecules will be changed, others utterly destroyed. While a competent cook may be able to work with the resulting shortcomings, we’d recommend giving yourself as easy a start as possible and buying the freshest option available; and a Maryland duck will give you a good learning experience without breaking the bank.
On to some more specific things regarding duck cookery. Though poultry, duck doesn’t really have a lot in common with chicken. Against chicken’s white meat and rather neutral flavour that’s good for picking up other, stronger flavours; duck has a redder, darker flesh that is more akin to steak. Duck meat is gamey, and possesses a stronger, earthier flavour closer to red meat. It also has more fat content, meaning that when it’s cooked correctly, it will yield meat that is tender and moist. There is also, unfortunately, less meat on a duck than on a chicken or turkey.
Now we know to use fresh where possible, and we know the basic qualities of duck meat. Now we need to go about selecting a duck or duck parts to cook. There are recipes for every variation of duck you can imagine, so for now, let’s just get into what to look for in a duck, and what parts are actually available.
Ethically Sourced Local Produce
When choosing any meat to cook with, it’s important to shop locally and ethically. Doing this does a few things, most notably it supports the local economy and small businesses, it promotes animal welfare and humane slaughter methods in the meat industry, and it ensures quality of life for the animals before they are slaughtered.
Colour Of The Flesh
When looking for fresh duck, you want to look for a deep red colour, with one side having a decent covering of fat. Good quality duck meat should also glisten slightly. Whole ducks should be available at your local butcher. When it comes to storing fresh duck, you want to get it home as soon as possible and immediately put it in the fridge, where it can stay for up to 2 days.
As for what kind of meat to cook there are several different cuts of meat to choose from. Starting with the neck. The neck has very little meat on it, however, the flavour of what little flesh is there is quite concentrated. It is mainly used for broths or stocks, however, it has been known to be useful for sausages or gravy. The same is true of the back meat.
The tenderloin, or “filet” is tender and very flavoursome. It is usually cooked quickly, by grilling or pan frying, but when roasted becomes crispy, juicy, and succulent. The breast meat is the most popular of duck cuts due to its rich, gamey flavour and sheer variety of preparation methods.
The wings of ducks are small, but have a lot of flavour and are decadently tender. They are often used for appetisers and can also be cooked quickly, or used for stock. Drumsticks are flavoursome, but their natural toughness means that they benefit from slow-cooking methods.
Duck thighs are similar, and a favourite among many chefs for their bold flavour. There are two remaining cuts, duck tips and tails, but these are minuscule and really only useful for adding some of the duck’s natural gamey flavour to other dishes.
Duck is a protein that has inspired fear in home cooks for years. Despite its tantalising and tempting nature, the reputational difficulties and cost of duck have made it its own barrier to entry. However, with the little bit of knowledge you’ve obtained you’re ready to start looking at recipes.
Duck can be cooked in a variety of ways, most of which you’ve probably already done with other meats at one point or another. Lots of people starting with this particular meat learn about duck’s unique properties through simply pan-frying the breasts. Scoring the skin, then cooking the breast skin-first, then browning the other side in the pan and finishing in the oven. When done properly, cooking the breast meat this way will result in a crispy skin with tender, juicy meat.
Duck is also a popular roasting meat, though it is important to remember that cooking duck like chicken will result in a dry and palateless meal. Duck roasting takes time and preparation but there are hundreds of good guides that can be sought in the process.
Perhaps one of the most famous methods of enjoying duck is in confit, a slow, laborious cooking method that yields pull-apart-with-a-fork soft flesh and beautifully rendered down fat.
Speaking of which, because duck is so fatty, many people collect the rendered fat and use it for cooking in other dishes, such as fried potatoes, or in pie crusts and pastries as a substitute for butter.
Demystifying The Duck
There’s no reason why people shouldn’t enjoy duck. Despite a bit of a learning curve duck is a gorgeously flavoursome meat, and has been a favourite of culinarians for centuries. Hopefully, this short guide has illuminated the wonderful qualities of this unique bird, and from here your journey into duck cookery is an enjoyable one. Cooking should be an experience in creating a delicious experience for you and yours, and duck is a truly special medium for that. We wish you good luck, and may all your culinary endeavours take wing.