The next time you buy a duck do not be tempted to take the easy way out by roasting it in one piece because with this bird the sum of the parts is ever so much more than the whole. Here is an approach to turning a duck into a fine meal while adding some fine ingredients to the refrigerator and freezer. You can find more information including instructional videos at the Maple Leaf Farms Web site.
1) Cut up the duck
If you are skilled at cutting up a chicken, disassembling a duck will pose no problems. First remove the legs where the thigh attaches to the body. Leave the thigh and drumstick together. Then remove the wings. Now, with the breast up, cut along the sternum and down along the ribs to remove one breast. Repeat of the other side. Finally remove 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. Chop or cut the back into convenient size pieces for making stock.
2) Make duck stock
Preheat oven to 400°F and roast the back, neck, and wings for 30 minutes turning occasionally. Add to a pressure cooker along with 1 coarsely chopped onion, a chopped carrot, a cut-up celery stalk, and the giblets. Toss in a bouquet garnis containing a bay leaf, half a dozen whole black peppercorns, and a sprig each of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Fill the cooker with cold water according to the manufacturer’s instruction—in mine the total comes to 16 cups. Cook on high pressure for 45 minutes. When the pressure has subsided open the cooker, again according to the manufacturer’s instructions, strain and let sit until the fat rises to the top. Skim and reserve the fat.
If you do not have a pressure cooker, use a large stock pot and simmer for 3 or 4 hours. You can also skip the browning step if you prefer a white stock.
3) Render 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 heavy pot and cover with an inch of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the water has evaporated and the fat is clear. Strain the fat into a suitable container and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Do not discard the bits of skin; make cracklings by frying them in a skillet with a bit of the duck fat.
4) Make 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.
5) Cook the duck breasts
Here is the generic recipe for cooking 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 until very hot. Place the duck breasts in the skillet skin side down. Place in the hot oven and finish to taste, about 20 minutes for medium well. Rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.