While the bird can be prepared in a great variety of ways, a whole roast duck isn’t just an impressive centrepiece, it’s also far easier to cook than you might think.
Eaten in many cuisines around the word, duck is high in protein and iron, but also in fat, which deters some people from cooking the bird at home, with a general consensus suggesting duck is difficult to cook well. The fact that duck breast can be served pink, like most red meats, actually makes it far more forgiving than most poultry; and when the thick layer of subcutaneous fat (for insulation) is rendered properly, it’s absolutely delicious. In addition to the breasts, confit duck legs are a wonder of the culinary world, the liver is commonly used for foie gras, in place of goose, and the fat is amongst some of the world’s most cherished for cooking.
The key to perfect roast duck is crispy skin. This can be achieved by following a number of practices, but leaving the duck to dry out in the fridge, uncovered, overnight is perhaps the easiest, followed by pouring a kettle of boiling water over the skin and leaving to dry for an hour or two before cooking. This, along with slow-cooking the duck, helps to perfectly render the fat, which I’d suggest reserving for use in other dishes. Slow-cooking will produce meat that’s more well-done, but extremely tender, cloaked with that crispy skin. It’s also worth noting that most whole ducks will include the giblets and a neck bone, which can be used to make a delicious gravy, and excess fat in the cavity, which should also be reserved and utilised either in other dishes or for roast potatoes to accompany this dish.
This roast duck recipe is also finished with a glaze inspired by duck a l’orange, the popular British take on canard à l’orange, a dish consisting of duck with bigarade sauce most commonly associated with France, but actually alleged to originate in Florence, Italy.
- 1 whole duck approx. 2kg
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
- 4 large oranges
- A few sprigs fresh thyme
- A few sprigs fresh rosemary
- 130 g honey
- 2 tbsp marmalade
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Before cooking, uncover the duck and leave to dry overnight in the fridge.
- To prepare the duck, remove any giblets and the neck and set aside (use to make a delicious gravy). Also remove any excess fat in the cavity and reserve to use for another dish. Place in a large roasting tin, breast-side up, and pour a kettle of boiling water over the skin. Remove the excess water and leave the duck to dry for an hour.
- Pre-heat the oven to 150C/Gas 2.
- Once dry, generously season the duck with salt and stuff the cavity with one of the oranges, cut in half, the garlic cloves, and the herbs.
- Use a sharp knife to score the skin on the duck’s breast in a diamond pattern, trying to cut only the skin without going through to the meat. Prick the skin all over with a skewer or cocktail stick, then fold the wings under the duck to prevent them from burning.
- Return the duck to a roasting tin and cook for 1 hour, breast side up. You won’t need any oil, as the fat will quickly begin to render and pool at the bottom of the tin.
- After an hour, remove the duck from the oven and prick the skin all over again. Flip the duck breast-side down and roast for another hour. Repeat the process of pricking the skin one final time, then return the bird to the oven, breast-side up, for another hour.
- During the final hour, prepare the glaze. Combine the juice of three oranges, the honey, marmalade, orange zest, and black pepper in a small saucepan and simmer until the liquid thickens. This should take around 10 minutes. Once reduced, remove from the heat and set aside.
- Once the duck has been cooking for 3 hours, increase the heat to 200C/Gas 6 and continue to cook for 15 minutes, then brush with the glaze and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on the duck during these final minutes to make sure the glaze doesn’t burn.
- Remove from the oven and rest for at least 15 minutes before carving and serving.
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