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Duck on the Grill
If you were on a diet and were offered the choice between chicken breast and duck breast, which would you go for? Chicken, right? Well, you'd be wrong. A three-ounce serving of duck breast (about the size of a deck of cards), without skin, has just over two grams of fat. The same portion of skinless, boneless chicken breast has three grams of fat.

The key, of course, is the skin. In either case (chicken or duck...and, in fact, any poultry), the majority of the fat is in the skin. And in the case of duck, there is a substantial amount of fat--the prime reason that most people assume that duck is way too fatty. However, once you've taken the skin off, the flesh underneath is perfectly lean.

Why Aren't We All Eating Duck?
In addition to the fact that it's lean, duck is a good source of protein, B vitamins, and iron. And, in this country, it is raised with no hormones. And, one of the coolest aspects of all, is that it has the dark red flesh and chewy texture of a very tender beef, but without all the fat. Three ounces of sirloin, for example, has 5 times the fat of duck! What a well kept secret. So what's the problem? Why aren't we all eating duck?

Well, the problem is sort of a circular one. People think duck is too fatty and it's too time-consuming to cook...that it is "restaurant food." So there's no demand for it. Because there's no demand, most markets don't carry it (at best some rock-hard frozen ducklings in the frozen food compartment). Since it's not easy to find, most people aren't inspired to cook with duck.

If you're willing to make the effort to find duck, especially fresh, you will be well rewarded. And if you latch onto the right butcher (or mail-order source), you may be able to buy just duck breasts, which are the easiest to cook and the leanest parts of the bird.

Buying Duck
The most widely sold domestic duck is the white Pekin (which are often sold as Long Island ducklings). The ducklings are 8 weeks old or younger, weigh from 3 to 6 pounds, and have a relatively mild-flavored flesh. If you can find just the breasts, each half weighs about 6 ounces, about as big as a medium-sized chicken breast. Moulards are a variety of duck bred for its large, dark, sweet breast meat; they are often twice as large as Pekin, but are quite difficult to find. Most other duck types are either only sold to restaurants or are only available as wild game.

Ducks are federally inspected for quality, and the presence of the USDA Grade shield on ducks is an indication of quality, with Grade A ducklings being of the highest quality available.

The Recipes We were interested in developing recipes for duck breast only. We didn't want to deal with--as most people do not--the time-consuming, labor-intensive business of roasting a whole duckling. Instead we went for the simplest cooking method we could think of, which is grilling. Of course any of these recipes would easily convert to broiled duck, duck cooked in a grill pan, or sauteed duck.

For the grilled duck, the obvious method of adding flavor was to use rubs and marinades. They're easy to do and for so little effort they pack a lot of flavor. First up was Cajun Grilled Duck with Tomato-Melon Salsa, hot with black pepper and cayenne. Once cooked, the duck is thinly sliced and served with a contrasting, cooling mixture of cantaloupe and tomato.

Pairing duck with a noodle salad seemed like a good, all-in-one meal, so we created Grilled Duck Salad with Soba Noodles. Soba (buckwheat) noodles, earthy and full-flavored, make a wonderful Asian-style salad base for spice-rubbed duck. A mixture of hot and sweet spices are rubbed into the duck and once cooked and sliced, it sits atop the Asian inspired salad.

Finally, a Latin American duck breast Cilantro-Chili Grilled Duck has a wet marinade rather than a dry rub. The duck breast sits in a marinade of cilantro, chipotle peppers, lime juice, and spices. Once grilled, it's served with a spicy tomato salsa.

Author: Sandra Rose Gluck
Date Published: 08/03/2000
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