After our first time cooking with a whole duck, and 3 amazing dinners later, we are sold. Duck has a stronger, richer flavor than other poultry, since its flesh contains more oil. A new cooking adventure can be intimidating, but duck is actually quite simple to prepare and provides a versatile base for many dishes. Using the whole bird will also save you money. If you went to the store to buy all of the cuts in separate pieces it would add up to well over $65. Purchasing the entire duck will only cost you around $25 and you will have some fun as well, we promise!
With a whole duck you will get 2 duck breast (normally about $20), 2 duck legs (normally $15), duck stock (normally $10), and about 2 cups of rendered duck fat, which in the cooking world is basically liquid gold. If you do this a few times and save the gizzards and livers from each time in the freezer, after about 3 ducks you can also make some amazing pate that would be another $20 in the store. Bottom line, get the whole bird.
Some supermarkets will carry duck meat and many local butchers carry a great duck. Ask around and get to know your great local purveyors!
With one duck we were able to create three amazing dinners. Two very classic recipes of duck confit and seared duck breasts, and one Asian noodle dish. Starting with the classics not only provides a delicious meal, but will get your head spinning with other ways to incorporate different flavors, cuisines, and techniques to make it your own on the next go-around. Duck, like chicken, is incredibly versatile.
We can’t think of another protein that produces as many meal options as a whole duck. Everything on the bird is edible, and all of it can be easily preserved to save for a later date. Once you’ve carved the breasts and legs, they are best used fresh but you can freeze them if you need to; the bones, simmered make an flavorful stock, and the fat is rendered to use in making your confit and can be used again for all your creative cooking endeavors in the months to come - roasted potatoes, French fries (!!), sautéed vegetables, rice dishes, noodles, the list goes on.
Your first step will be to break down the duck, which is very similar to how you would break down a chicken. The video below gives a great review how it’s done. The key is to have a flat, sturdy and clean surface to work on, as well as good sharpened chef's knife.
You will want to use the trimmed fat to render for the confit recipe. Confit is a generic term for any food that is submerged in a liquid for flavor and preservation. To render the fat you will need to heat the trimmed fat in a small pot over a medium-low heat. Cook the fat until it is clear, which will take about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Allow the fat to cool slightly and then pour through a mesh strainer into a sealable container. It will keep for up to 3 months in the refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer. The remaining brown bits are cracklings and can eaten plain or are amazing atop a salad.
Cook the duck breasts for your first meal. Searing them will not only create a delicious crispy skin, but also provide you with even more duck fat to use as you wish. We sautéed some Swiss chard in the duck fat to serve alongside the breasts. If you are not planning to immediately cook the confit, you can preserve your duck legs using the rendered fat. To do this, place the legs into a sealed container and submerge them in the duck fat. Once you are sure that the duck meat is completely covered on all surfaces by the fat, cover and store it in the refrigerator. Duck confit will keep in the refrigerator for 3 months. Seriously.
Your last step will be to cook up some duck fat to use as the soup base for your third meal. To make duck stock you just need to chop the bones into big pieces and add them to a pot along with the neck, an onion, 2 chopped carrots, 10 cups of water, smashed ginger root, a couple scallions, 2 jalapenos, and ½ teaspoon of peppercorn. Let that entire mix simmer for 2-4 hours and voilà! Homemade duck stock. Use this in one of the internet’s bountiful recipes. Some of our favorites are below, just sub your duck stock for the chicken broth.