Who knows why turkey became the fowl of choice this time of year, leaving duck forgotten by most. I guess the ducks themselves are just fine with this arrangement, but if you’re looking for a less-traditional and more adventurous Thanksgiving dinner, why not give duck a try?
A whole, roasted duck tends to work best for smaller groups, as there is less meat on a duck carcass than on a chicken or turkey and depending on where you buy it, duck can be more expensive. Duck is prized for its rich flavor and thick, fatty skin that is hard to resist when cooked until crisp. Duck is often cooked with a sweet glaze because it helps the skin caramelize and crisp up. A hint of sweetness also goes well with the slightly gamey flavor of the meat. You don’t need to go overboard with this, however, as our recipe below for a Tamari Honey Glaze proves. You can skip a glaze completely, of course, and simply season the duck with spices that give the impression of sweetness, like cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and Chinese five spice powder.
Either way, the duck will be even more memorable if you serve some sort of sauce on the side. Again, a hint of sweetness pairs undeniably well. Orange Honey Sauce and Balsamic Berry Sauce get their sweetness from fruit and also have a palate-cleansing kick from a hit of vinegar. Served next to the cooked duck, either (or both!) will make for a memorable holiday meal.
How to Roast a Duck
Talk to your butcher about how large of a duck you need. The cooking time below is for a 4lb duck, which will typically feed three people.
Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit.
Rinse the duck, then pat dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Optional: For extra crispy skin, place the duck in a roasting pan and refrigerate uncovered overnight.
Remove fat and anything else from inside the cavity and discard.
Using your fingers, loosen the duck’s skin all around it’s body. Apply seasoning of choice (see recipes below) under the skin as much as possible and on top of the duck skin.
Optional: Truss the duck with kitchen string. A duck will cook just fine without being tied together, however, some people feel it looks better if it is trussed. There are many methods of trussing poultry and we favor a very simple one. First, cut 4 feet or so of kitchen twine. Set the duck breast-side-up with the legs facing you. Center the twine beneath the ends of the legs and the tail of fat at the end of the duck. Lift the two ends of twine on your left and right and cross the twine over the top of the duck legs and tail of fat.
Pull the twine tightly so the legs are pulled close to the body of the duck. Pull the ends of the twine forward (away from you) and loop the twine over the wings and around the front of the duck so the wings are pulled close to the body.
Tie a knot so the twine is secured where the neck once was. You can snip the tips of the wings off, as they have little to no meat on them and often burn while cooking.
Place the trussed, seasoned duck breast side down in a roasting pan, preferably one with a rack so excess fat can drip off. Roast for 45 minutes.
Turn the duck over and cook, breast side up about 45 minutes more. A thermometer inserted into a thigh (not touching bone) should read 170-180°F. The meat will still be a bit pink.
If the skin is not dark and crispy enough for you, turn on the broiler and broil duck a few minutes more until golden brown.
Remove duck from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Glaze and Seasoning
A little spice can go a long way…
Tamari Honey Glaze
This sweet and salty glaze gives the duck skin more flavor. It also helps the skin brown faster. If the skin actually begins to burn before the duck is cooked through, tent a piece of foil over the duck.
Apple this glaze under and over the duck skin so it can flavor the meat as well. Make sure to do so before placing the duck in the roasting pan, as an excess amount of tamari and honey dripping into the pan will burn and smoke while the duck cooks.
1/2 cup tamari
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
Combine tamari, honey and five-spice powder in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly. Using your fingers, loosen the duck’s skin then rub the glaze over and under skin. Finish by lightly salting the outside of the duck.
Instead of a glaze, simply season the duck. You can always use just salt and pepper, but spices make the end result much more interesting.
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Stir together spices. Using your fingers loosen the duck’s skin. Sprinkle the spice mixture under and on top of the skin.
Orange Honey Sauce
A sauce need not be overloaded with sugar to pair well with duck. In fact, this sauce is more tart than sweet, thanks to the acidity in the orange juice and a drizzle of vinegar.
1 tablespoon of honey
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
The juice of 2 oranges (about 2/3 cup)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon tamari
Gently boil the honey, vinegar and orange juice over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the butter and tamari. Simmer again for five minutes.
Balsamic Berry Sauce
Again with this sauce, sweet and tart flavors play off one another with great success. One more flavor element – chicken stock – gives this sauce a savory flavor.
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken or duck stock
1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bring vinegar, wine and stock to a boil for ten minutes. Add berries and simmer 12-15 minutes more, until less than a 1/2 cup of liquid is left. Turn off heat and stir in butter. You can strain the sauce so it is smooth, or leave the berries in. Enjoy!