I just unearthed this recipe, which I used to make all the time—very impressive, duck is!—when my Trader Joe’s carried ducks. (I’m going to get a duck…somewhere…this week.) It came from Amanda Hesser. Remember when she was writing those wonderful essays for The New York Times? One weekend (some time around the writing of this piece for the Sunday magazine on August 12, 2001), she and her then-boyfriend/now-husband visited his parents, and her soon-to-be mother in law made this delicious dish for Saturday-night dinner. Probably sealed the deal. If you’ve got a recipe for duck that works—I hate when you think you’re going to get something resembling Peking Duck (read, crispy), and it’s nowhere near…—please, let’s trade. Also, see the box below about getting your ducks in order.
1 onion, pealed and cut in half, or 3 shallots
2 stalks celery, cut into 3-inch-long pieces
2 t. ground ginger
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 t. salt
1/2 cup sherry
1 small bunch watercress
(4 meager servings; Amanda’s mother-in-law doubled the recipe…and that’s what I always do, too)
The day before, stuff the duck with onion and celery. Place the duck, breast side up, in a large soup pot with enough water to half cover it. Add the ginger and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat so that it simmers gently for an hour.
After one hour, turn the duck over, Add the sugar, soy sauce and salt. Continue simmering for another hour. Turn duck once again and simmer until tender and almost falling apart, about another hour. Turn off the heat and when cool enough, remove duck from pot and place in a roasting pan. Cover and refrigerate until the next day.
Pour the broth into a container and chill overnight. A layer of fat will form on top. Scrape off and discard. What remains is delicious in rice and soups, and can be frozen for months.
Before serving, bring duck to room temperature in roasting pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add the sherry and 1 cup of the defatted duck broth to the roasting pan and place in the oven. Roast uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the juices from the pan. The duck is done when it is heated through and the skin is crisp and chestnut brown.
Transfer the duck to a serving platter and garnish with watercress.
GET YOUR DUCKS IN ORDER…
This also from Amanda Hesser: Unlike chicken, where variety is almost always dependent on size (a roaster or broiler, for example) or how it is raised (in a pen or free range), ducks vary by breed. And each breed has distinctive taste and cooking qualities.
Pekin, a medium-size bird, usually four and a half to six pounds, is the most widely available. Fed on corn and soy, it has meat milder than that of other ducks, and less of it. The bones are heavy, and it’s a fatty bird with proportionately less meat for its size. A four-and-a-half-pound chicken feeds four; the same-size duck, two or three.
Muscovy, originally from South America and one of the oldest duck species, is small and gamy. Used mainly in restaurants, it is also in specialty stores. Dense, sweet and not very fatty, it is best cooked pink or rare. One three- to three-and-a-quarter-pound bird serves two.
Mallard is a wild breed that is also raised outdoors in controlled areas. It is hard to come by; you have to hunt it or buy it from a specialty purveyor. Closer in size to a Cornish hen, it tastes deeply of liver and is at once sweet and gamy. It should be cooked medium rare.
Moulard, a cross between a female Pekin and male Muscovy, is used for foie gras. Because it is fattened, it grows large, about twice the size of a Pekin. The breasts, or magrets, are like steaks, only chewier, with thick fatty skin. Though not very flavorful, they are on menus everywhere. The breasts are best sauteed medium rare. The dense muscular legs are good for braising and ideal for confit.