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Duck
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

In colonial times, wild duck was an important part of the dinnertime menu. But it's fair to say that duck hasn't come close in popularity to chicken or turkey in many years. Americans now eat an average of only about 3/4 pound of duck annually per capita. Perhaps this is because duck is considered sophisticated fare--more difficult to prepare than chicken or turkey and with a more complicated flavor. Ducks also have a large chest cavity (so they contain a smaller proportion of meat to bone), and all of their meat is dark.

Much of this reputation, however, turns out to be unjustified. There are certainly some legitimate strikes against it: It is hard to find (in supermarkets, anyway). It is a high-maintenance bird to roast because the skin must be constantly pricked to release the fat. But--and this is an important but--the flesh of a duck (the breast in particular) is actually leaner than chicken! A 3-ounce serving of skinless cooked duck breast has only 2.1 grams of fat, 30% less than skinless chicken breast. The trick here, of course, is to serve skinless duck.

The most widely sold domestic duck is the white Pekin, which was brought to the United States from China in the 19th century. Young white Pekin ducks are often sold as Long Island ducklings, although only a third or so of domestic ducks are raised on Long Island, New York. The majority come from duck farms in the Midwest. The ducklings are eight-weeks old or younger, and weigh from three to six pounds.

Varieties

Pekin: The Pekin is the most widely available duck. Weighing in at three to six pounds, a large percentage being fat. Fed on a diet of corn and soy, the Pekin is milder in flavor than other varieties. It is heavy boned and yields proportionally less meat per pound than some other varieties. A four and a half-pound bird will feed two to three.

Muscovy: This variety is often used in restaurants. It is small and gamy with more pronounced flavor than the Pekin. Generally weighing between three to four pounds, a three and a quarter-pound bird will feed two to three. These are best cooked to medium-rare or pink.

Mallard: Rarely available unless you or someone you know hunts or has access to a specialty store, these small birds (close in size to a Cornish hen) are best eaten medium-rare.

Moulard: Prized for its large, dark, sweet breast meat., these birds are often twice as large as Pekin ducks and quite difficult to find. The breasts, or magrets, are best cooked like steak, although they are much leaner. The breast meat has become more readily available in specialty and high-end butcher shops.

Availability

Ducks are available fresh on a limited basis from late spring through late winter, but 90% of the duck supply is sold frozen.

Duck breasts (magrets) are sometimes available in specialty markets. If available, they are generally fresh.

Shopping

If you purchase a fresh duck, check that the skin is clean, odor-free, and feather-free--and off-white, not yellow. Frozen ducks should be plump-breasted and wrapped in airtight packages. If you buy the duck in a supermarket, check the "sell-by" date. Once frozen, the ducks can be held in the freezer for up to six months.

Storage

As with other poultry, keep duck in its original wrapping, but overwrap it with aluminum foil to catch any leakage. Store fresh duck in the coldest part of the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to three days. (Wrap and store any giblets separately.)

Because duck is widely available frozen, there is no sense in freezing fresh duck. Store-bought frozen duck should be placed in the freezer in its original wrapping. Date the package and use it within three months. (Some frozen birds carry an expiration date.)

To store cooked duck, remove the meat from the bones, wrap it in foil or in a covered container, and place it in the coldest part of the refrigerator; eat it within three days.

Preparation

To defrost a frozen duck, place it on a dish in the refrigerator; a five-pound bird will thaw in 24 to 36 hours. Alternately, you can submerge the wrapped duck in a pot or sink full of cold water. (Warm water thaws the bird too quickly and can cause bacteria to flourish.) Change the water every 30 minutes. Thawing will occur in about three hours.

Before cooking a fresh or thawed duck, check for any feathers and remove them, and also remove any visible fat. Then rinse the bird under cold water and pat it dry.

Although you can stuff a whole bird, virtually any stuffing will absorb a great deal of fat as the bird cooks. Prepare and serve stuffing on the side. Season the duck cavity with salt and pepper. You can add extra flavor to the duck by placing onion halves, or a whole pricked lemon or a small orange into the chest cavity.

Roasting: If you have the time, try this slow roasting method to yield meltingly tender meat. Season the duck and prick the skin all over. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Place the seasoned duck in a roasting pan and loosely cover with foil. Roast 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 300°F and roast three and a half hours, basting the duck with pan juices and skimming off fat every so often. The bird is done when the internal temperature reaches 180°F. Remove the skin before eating.

For a quicker method, thoroughly prick the duck's skin all over, being careful not to pierce the flesh. Place the bird with the breast side up on a rack inside an uncovered roasting pan. To prevent the released fat from smoking, pour a small amount of stock or water--to a level of 1/2"--in the bottom of the roasting pan. As the bird cooks, continue pricking the skin and basting the bird with the drippings to help release more fat. If areas of the bird seem to brown too fast, shield them with aluminum foil. Cooking time: five minutes in a 450°F oven, then lower temperature to 350°F and roast for 20 minutes per pound. Allow the bird to stand 15 minutes before carving.

Pan-Roasting: For pan-roasting, cut the bird into halves or quarters. Place skin side down in a heavy bottomed skillet or nonstick skillet. Cover and cook over low heat for one hour. Turn duck over, cover and cook one hour longer until cooked through.

Sauteing: Duck breasts can be treated like steak. Remove skin and season meat. Saute in a small amount of oil to desired degree of doneness.

Nutrition Chart

Duck Breast (skinless)/3 ounces broiled

119
Total fat (g)
2.1
Saturated fat (g)
0.5
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.7
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
0
23
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
122
Sodium (mg)
89
Niacin (mg)
8.9
Iron (mg)
3.8


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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