Well, ok, technically the duck had already been dispatched before it left Maple Leaf Farms in northern Indiana. And, after thawing it, I could have simply popped it into the oven and roasted it whole. But disassembling the bird lets me get the best out of its component parts. The boneless breasts, maigret de canard in French, cook up like small, tender steaks; the legs get salt-cured and preserved in duck fat as confit de canard, perfect for making cassoulet; the back, wings, and giblets make a wonderful stock and soup base; and, the extra skin renders out delicious, golden duck fat. Not bad for a few minutes of work.
Cutting up the duck
If you are skilled at cutting up a chicken, disassembling a duck will pose no problems. Their anatomy is similar but the classic method is a bit different: wth a chicken one removes the legs and separates the thigh and drumstick while with a duck the legs are left whole; and with a chicken after removing the wings one cuts out the back while with a duck the back is left whole and the breasts are cut from the ribs. Maple Leaf Farms has an instructional video. Cut as much of the loose skin as possible from the back and set aside to render but leave the skin on the breasts and legs.
Making duck stock
Put the back, wings, and giblets into a stock pot along with 1 coarsely chopped onion, a chopped carrot, and a cut-up celery stock. Cover by a couple of inches with cold water, add a teaspoon of black pepper corns and a couple bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Skim the stock as it nears boiling. When it is boiling, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 3 or 4 hours. Strain and let sit until the fat rises to the top. Skim and reserve the fat.
Duck also makes a very good brown stock. To make that just roast the duck, but not the giblets, in a 400° oven for 30 minutes and proceed as for white stock.
Rendering the duck fat
Besides being delicious, duck fat is a healthy alternative to butter. Duck fat contains 50.5% monounsaturated fats, 35.7% saturated fats, and 13.7% polyunsaturated fats compares to olive oil which is 75% monounsaturates, 13% saturates, and 12% polyunsaturates or butter with 21% monounsaturates, 51% saturates, and 3% polyunsaturates. There are two ways to render duck fat: in a fry pan and in water. The latter method, ironically, results in fat with less water and thus a longer shelf live. To render the fat simply put the duck skin and any loose fat into a Dutch oven and cover with an inch of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the water has evaporated. Strain off the fat and store in the refrigerator. Do not discard the bits of skin, however. Make cracklings by frying them in a skillet with a bit of the duck fat.
Cooking the duck breasts
Preheat the oven to 400°. With a sharp knife score the breasts at an angle cutting through the skin into the fat layer but not into the meat. The cuts should be about ¼ inch apart. Repeat at right angles to the first series of cuts. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a dry, oven-proof, non-stick skillet on medium-low heat. Place the duck breasts in the skillet skin side down. Cook for 10 minutes or until the skin is well crisped. Turn and cook for another 2 minutes then pour off the fat and finish in the oven for about 6 minutes. Allow to rest for 4 or 5 minutes before serving. Or just watch the video from Maple Leaf Farms.
Making duck confit
Sprinkle the meat side of each leg with salt. Cover one leg with 3 or 4 cloves of crushed garlic. Place the other leg on top so that the pieces are meat-to-meat. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 or 2 days. Scrape off the salt and garlic then put the legs in a shallow baking dish. Place the dish in a 200° oven for about 3 hours or until the meat falls from the bones. Allow to rest until cool enough to handle then remove the meat from the bones in large pieces and place in a glass jar. Pour the rendered fat over the meat adding more if needed to cover by 1 inch. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.