Let’s get it out of the way right now: duck is fatty, and duck is delicious, a rich dark meat that is quite distinctive and … – surprise! – does not taste like chicken. I sometime roast a duck mainly to collect its fat – because (as everyone knows) duck-fat fried potatoes are a treat. So if you are afraid of fat, skip the duck!
Duck is poultry, but a duck’s skeleton and body are very different from a chicken. A 5-lb duck yields a lot less meat than a 5-lb chicken — don’t forget that pound of lovely fat — mostly in breast and leg meat. Everything else is “gnaw off the bone” meat (wings, neck and back – and innards, of course!), stuff that not everyone cares to eat. At least not at a fancy dinner as fingers are required. Go figure. So… anything smaller than 5 lb is not really worth roasting.
Ducks are — I am told — somewhat harder to raise than chicken. Mostly the processing (getting the feathers off) are a lot trickier and slower. So, it’s not that easy to get local ducks in the mid-Atlantic area. The closest duck farm I know is Free Union Grass Farm in Free Union, VA, more than 60 miles away (which is further than I want to drive on a casual basis).
So duck is a treat here.
A rich meat, it marries well with bitter or sour: cherries in the spring, turnips and ginger in the fall, oranges & olives in winter, or like the recie here, make a tart sauce with current jelly. Or you could use tart cherry jam or jelly, or a seedless blackberry jam.
By the way, remember that supermarket ducks can be injected with as much as 15% by weight with a saline solution (check the fine print on the package), something your local small-scale farmer is highly unlikely to do.
ROASTED DUCK WITH CURRANT JELLY SAUCE
1 5-pound duck
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 to 2 cups (young tannic) red wine at room temperature
1 pound small onions (like Cipolini-type) or shallots, peeled
1 pound small even-size waxy potatoes, scrubbed cleaned
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced (or 1 teaspoon, dry)
3 tablespoons currant jelly
Preheat oven to 450 F
Prick the duck skin superficially all over with a fork, holding the fork parallel to the duck so that you pierce the skin but not through the skin to the flesh. Pricking allows the underlying fat to escape more easily. Rub with olive oil and salt the skin.
Put 1 tablespoon grated ginger in the cavity (along with the heart, liver & gizzard).
Place duck in a deep heavy oven-proof casserole and roast for 30 minutes. At the 15 minute mark, baste the duck with accumulated fat, to help render more fat. Do not use a plastic baster since the hot fat will damage it; rather remove the dish from the oven, put it on a heat-proof surface, carefully tilt it slightly to gather the fat in one corner (careful that the duck does not slide off) and spoon the fat over the duck using a metal spoon.
After 30 minutes, carefully remove all the fat from the dish (see note below), and pour ½ of the wine on top of the dish. If there is room in the pan, also scatter the onions and potatoes around the duck. If there is not room, arrange them in a separate oven-proof dish, add ¼ cup of the just rendered duck fat, sprinkle rosemary over and put in the oven.
Put duck back in oven. Set temperature to 375 F, and cook for 1 hour, basting regularly and adding more of the wine as needed.
Remove duck from oven, carefully pour out all accumulated juices in a small saucepan. Cover the duck with foil and let rest. Add the remaining ½ tablespoon ginger to the saucepan and boil the liquid off, until it’s syrupy and reduced by half (about 3 to 5 minutes). Whisk often to prevent scorching. Whisk in the jelly and cook on low for 2 minutes, whisking often to prevent separation.
Either set the duck on platter to carve at table, or carve ahead. In either case spoon plenty of the jelly gravy on top. Serve hot (duck is not so good cold…)
Note on duck fat: Pour out or scoop out the duck fat into a heat-proof container (metal bowl is best). Let cool. When warm (but still liquid), pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove any meat solids into a lidded glass jar. Let cool and put lid on. It will keep several months refrigerated and can be used to extreme advantage when frying potatoes or cooking greens.