Duck is tricky to cook. It’s hard to mess up a chicken, but a badly-cooked duck is pretty much inedible. Given that we need ducks to deal with slugs in this wet climate, and how easy it is to hatch out a bunch of duck eggs in the incubator, we do end up having some ducks butchered every year, and so we have been working out, with fear and trepidation, how to cook them.
Duck can be quite delicious – it’s more flavorful than chicken, and completely different. The meat is dark, and breast meat is usually served rare, where is has a kind of meaty, beefy quality. The richness (for which you can read fattiness) is more like pork; while beef and lamb fat are unpleasant, pork fat (e.g. bacon) and duck fat are tasty in themselves and good for cooking.
The best thing I’ve ever made from duck – possibly the best thing I’ve ever made, period – is confit of duck. This basically just means slowly braising in duck fat. It intensifies the duck flavor, and the duck is meltingly tender.
Here’s the recipe I use:
4 duck leg/thigh pieces, skin on, excess fat trimmed and reserved
3 tablespoon kosher salt
4 sprigs thyme
4 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, crushed
about 4 cups duck fat and/or olive oil
Sprinkle salt over duck pieces. Sandwich the pieces, skin side out, with herbs and garlic in between. Put on a wire rack in a large container (so moisture can drain), and refrigerate 12-36 hours.
Wipe excess salt and seasonings off duck pieces. Arrange them, skin side down, in a deep baking dish or ovenproof saucepan. Tuck reserved duck fat trimmings between pieces. Cover with more duck fat or olive oil.
Cover and bake at 200°-225° (the pot should be under a simmer and just barely cooking). Cook for 4-5 hours, until meat is falling off bone. Remove duck from the fat, wipe off excess, and serve.
To store, remove from fat and pack pieces in a large glass jar. Strain the cooking fat, and separate the fat from any liquids. Pour the fat over the duck, making sure it’s entirely covered. It will keep for a long time in the refrigerator and can be frozen. When you want them, remove from the jar and scrape off the fat, and reheat in a frying pan.