With your shotgun, go outside when it’s cold, wait for some ducks to fly over, and kill a couple of them. Don’t forget your duck stamps, waders, etc.
Or…you could go to your local grocery store (or particularly Asian market) and pick up some duck breasts or a whole duck. The duck breasts can be frozen, that’s not a problem. As with anything frozen, you’ve got to get the water out of it. You can do this by letting it sit in the fridge uncovered as the humidity of the fridge is generally pretty low (hence the reason for humidity drawers that prevent veggies from drying out).
Pan-roasted duck breast with glazed baby carrots
Notice the polarity of the duck breasts, one side has the skin, the other does not (if you got something like I used). The presentation side is the skin side, and has the most flavor. The subcutaneous fat sits right under the skin, and provides a bunch of flavor as well. If you watched the Top Chef finale, one of the contestants made fried chicken skin and squash casserole for his first course. Bold! Dry rub the duck breasts with about equal parts chili powder, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Preheat the oven to 400. Heat your pan to somewhere around 350-400, which is close to the smoke point of butter and olive oil. A useful tool for this is an infrared thermometer which you can use to measure the temperature of your pan. This was a Christmas gift I got this year (thanks Cartwrights!).
If you don’t have one, rely on when you see smoke coming from your fat.
Which pan do you use?
Why do folks pay so much money for clad pans? Sadly, it may have something to do with one being shinier than the other. I won’t get that far into metallurgy, but some points are worth considering. Pans that hold heat well won’t cool off very quickly when you either take them off heat or when you add something cold. They’re ideal for searing meat or filling with oil for frying (cast iron skillet, enameled cast iron dutch oven). Other pans are great heat conductors, meaning they take the heat from the flame and efficiently turn that into radiant heat. When they’re off the flame, they cool quickly. THIS is where you get your money’s worth. The model for this is copper cookware which is great, but costs a fortune and is difficult to clean. The clad cookware (All-Clad) will frequently have a copper core. This translates to you as this: the better the conduction, (1) the lower the flame for the same job and (2) more quickly it cools when you take it off heat. You want (2) for some applications because it will prevent you from over cooking.
Which pan would you use for the duck, then? My ideal preparation would involve seared, crispy skin with a consistent doneness throughout. Either the clad pan or the cast iron would work great. The clad pan advantage is in making the pan sauce because it heats up and cools off quickly, so that’s the one I used.
The higher the temperature you “set” the skin side when you initially sear the duck, the less you have to worry about uneven cooking. With varying oils, know the smoke points, heat your pan to high, and put the meat on at the temperature you want. Realize that a pan with good conduction will cool off slightly when you add the meat, less so with cast iron or warmer meat. From there, it’s just like grilling, take it out of the oven when the juices are clear. After you quickly sear the skin, put it in the pan and into the oven. There are a lot of different ways to do this, so experiment.
- Sear one side, flip, and roast. This works great because it gets your pan up to the roasting temperature. It needs only enough time one the burner to get your pan back up to temperature after you added the meat. The longer you temper (let it come to room temperature) your meat, the shorter your searing time will be.
- Sear both sides, roast. This might result in overcooking one side.
- Sear neither side, roast, and crisp under the broiler afterwards. May work well, ideally you want your pan to be at temperature so you get even cooking. Crisping the skin works great, particularly for poultry.
Like with any roasted meat, it needs to rest substantially, so do this on a rack so that steam doesn’t build up and overcook the bottom side. You may think I’m kidding; I’m not. If you carve too soon, the juices won’t have a chance to spread out. The pan sauce was made by pouring off the excess fat, deglazing with orange juice and reducing until thickened, adding a little butter and salt to get it right, and pouring over served family style. Accompanying this, I served it with glazed carrots. You can find a recipe for this on Eric Ripert’s website.