When I first took a stab at cooking poultry, I did so with a silent promise to myself: Thou shalt take these lessons you learn and ultimately use them to cook a duck. Why this particular piece of fowl was so important to me, I couldn't begin to tell you; why I couldn't bring myself to START with this is no easier to explain. Suffice it to say, it had something to do with compressed air blowers, chinese restaurants, and the general fatty nature of the duck.
Mostly the fatty part, I think. Despite the fact that it is, truly, what makes the duck delicious, I find the sheer volume of fat that comes attached to a duck a little daunting. But, after our little trip to the Essex market, I was determined to be daunted no longer. So, I turned (as I so often do when looking for info about basic technique) to Mark Bittmann, who not only had several excellent tips on roasting duck, but an excellent suggestion for how to solve the fat conundrum: harness the power of steam!
By steaming the duck before roasting, you melt some of the prodigious fat layer, allowing it to drip out of the duck before you commit it to the oven. You're left with a delicious bird (with a significantly more manageable fat quotient) and a cup or two of nicely rendered duck fat, which you can whack in your freezer and use intermittently in place of butter or oil. Steaming the duck also gives you an early opportunity to add flavor to the bird; flavoring the steaming water imparts a subtle flavor to the meat. Since I decided I wanted an asian-style duck (I have a moderate obsession with peking duck), I used star anise, mustardseed and cinnamon; I used the same flavors during the roast itself, and in the sauce/glaze. Hitting the seasonings three times made the taste of the meat unbelievably delicate and luscious.
Being the sensible, frugal girl that I am, I used some of the fat I'd rendered out to roast up the potatoes. Believe me when I tell you that you should try doing that, too. It's not for the faint of heart, but good goddamn, it is delicious.
Roast Cherryaki Duck
1 duckling, 4-6 lb
2-4 c water
2 sticks cinnamon
2 tsp mustard seed
3-4 star anise, whole
2 tsp cinnamon
1 orange, zested and then sliced
1/2 large yellow onion (or one small red onion), sliced
For the sauce:
1/2c cherry preserves
1/2c soy sauce
1/2c chicken stock
1/4c white wine vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
3 pieces star anise
- Start by steaming the duck on your stovetop--put a rack in a nice, large pan, and then fill it with about 1-2 inches of water. Add spices. Prick the skin of the duck all over with a sharp knife or fork (take care not to prick the meat--you have about 1/4 inch of fat before you hit it), and then place it breast side down on the rack. Set heat to high, cover tightly and steam for about 45 minutes, replenishing the boiling water when it starts to run a little dry. I used my wok for this, wrapped in about eight hundred wasteful (yet effective!) layers of foil. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes before doing anything else with it.
- While it's cooling crank up your oven to 375 and start the sauce--put the preserves, soy sauce, honey, cinnamon, star anise, stock, and vinegar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, then drop the heat to keep it simmering.
- Once the duck's cooled a bit, rub the skin (on both sides) with a little kosher salt, orange zest and cinnamon, and stuff the body cavity with sliced onions and oranges. Place breast-side down on a rack in a roasting dish, and baste. Cook for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the bird). Remove from oven, flip over, baste the other side. Crank your oven to 425, then roast for 15-20 more minutes, until the skin is nice and crispy.