I am often asked “how do you cook that?” or “what would you do with that in the kitchen?”
It seems the one thing friends and diners alike most want to know how to cook at home is duck. This is something I am always being asked.
Duck is one of my favourite meats to eat and to cook. An adaptable bird, it can be used for any manner of preparations. The French have been incredibly generous here, giving us many recipes for duck, the most popular being “confit de canard”. Confit duck leg, after eye fillet of beef, would have to be the most commonly served protein in restaurants in the ’90s. Duck rillettes, a charcuterie preparation made from shredding cooked duck meat to a pâté, is also a favourite.
Roast duck, though, is universally adored. It has
a place in most European, Asian and Western countries. Possibly the best take-home meal of all would have to be Chinese roast duck, found hanging in the front window of many Chinese restaurants around town. Chopped up to order and sent off home with a small plastic cup of plum sauce, it is the best take-out crowd-pleaser I know. I have also been known to drop a chopped pre-roasted Chinese duck into a red curry at home – gently cook in the curry for half an hour before serving.
Duck varieties in this country are limited.
The most popular breed is the Pekin, not to be mistaken for Peking duck, which is a Chinese delicacy involving pancakes and hoisin sauce. The Pekin is a fast-growing duck that has a good fat covering, which protects it while roasting. It also has a good fat-to-meat ratio that makes it attractive to the consumer. Duck fat is a glorious by-product from a roast duck and should never be discarded. Reserve the rendered duck fat and the following day use it to roast potatoes. You will not be disappointed.
Another, rarer breed now available is the Aylesbury duck, named after the English town in the county of Buckinghamshire.
A somewhat more temperamental duck to breed, susceptible to bad weather, it will struggle to put on sufficient weight in the summer months. The Aylesbury is a superior-tasting duck, with tender flesh and a light game quality. It has a fine covering of the most delicious sweet fat.
Jodi and Greg Clarke, dedicated duck farmers, breed Aylesburys. They own and live on a farm 10 minutes from Port Campbell on the Great Ocean Road. Hatched on the property, the ducks roam freely and are constantly guarded by family dogs to stave off foxes. The ducks forage for feed on the property and receive organic grains in the evening before bed. Season permitting, excess fresh strawberries from the farm down the road supplement their feed, and they are understandably mad for them.
The principle of roasting a whole duck is similar to that of roasting chicken. The size of the bird will dictate the roasting time, and a generous amount of time for the bird to rest is important. The legs will need to be removed from the carcass to cook further, as they take a little longer. At home, I usually cook only duck fillets – here is an easy, clean, quick and relatively fuss-free method.
– 4 large duck fillets
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– sea salt flakes
Take your duck fillets and remove (pluck) any small feathers that may be protruding from the skin.
Lay the duck fillets on a chopping board, skin-side up. With a sharp knife, gently score the fillets across-ways, cutting through the fat but not all the way through to the flesh. This is to enable the duck fat to escape and render as it cooks.
Season the skin and flesh of the duck with a generous pinch of salt. Place a large non-stick pan on a moderate heat. When hot, add the oil to the pan, place the fillets skin-side down and cook for a minute before turning the heat down low. Continue to cook the ducks on the skin for up to 10 minutes. As the duck cooks, the fat will render and start to pool in the bottom of the pan. Remove the fillets and carefully tip the fat into a small bowl (reserve this fat for roasting potatoes). Return the fillets to the pan skin-side down.
Continue to cook for two to five minutes and remove the excess fat again if necessary. The skin should be golden and crispy, the flesh rare.
Turn the fillet over onto the flesh and cook for one minute, remove and set aside to rest skin-side up. The duck should still be quite rare at this stage but will continue to cook as it rests.
When you wish to serve the duck, place in a hot oven for two minutes to heat. Carve each breast immediately before serving.
Serve with Cumberland sauce and a pan of gratin potatoes.
Yields 1 cup
This sauce is a classic English accompaniment, particularly good with ham, game, goose and duck.
– 4 spring onions
– 1 orange and 1 lemon zested with a citrus zester or peeled with a vegetable peeler and julienned
– 2cm piece of ginger grated and finely chopped
– 160ml port wine
– 80ml orange juice
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 170g redcurrant jelly
– pinch cayenne pepper
– 1 tsp dry mustard powder
Bring a small saucepan of water to the simmer. Plunge the citrus zest into the water and blanch for one minute. Strain and cool under cold water. Whisk the mustard powder with the orange juice, add all the ingredients into a small saucepan.
Bring all the ingredients to a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the sauce has reduced to one cup.
Remove from the heat and set aside. Serve at room temperature. This sauce will last for up to two weeks in the fridge.
2012 Shadowfax pinot noir from the Macedon Ranges, Victoria ($30) – Mark Williamson, sommelier, Cumulus Inc.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 17, 2014 as "Aylesbury rules". Subscribe here.