It’s always Duck Two Ways on restaurant menus — if not more. At a minimum, the breast needs to be pan-fried or grilled or roasted or sous-vided until rare or medium rare. The legs need to be cooked in fat or braised or slow-roasted until super-tender. Then there’s the neck, the tongue, the gizzard, the heart. . .
I occasionally do the multiple-duck thing myself, at least to the point of cooking the breast and (sometimes boned and stuffed) legs separately. It optimizes the cooking times and methods for each part, as one might for a hog: grill the chops, braise or barbecue the shoulder, cure the ham, roast the belly (yes, I said roast the belly; you should try it before you laugh).
But ducks are smaller than hogs. Can’t you just throw one in the oven and roast it, the way your grandmother did and the way everybody else untainted by modern cooking does? You sure can, and that’s, more or less, what I recently did with a duck from our local farmers market. I say “more or less” because there was one extra step before it went into the oven, as you’ll see.
The first fancy French restaurant that Jackie and I visited repeatedly was New York’s Lutece, which closed a number of years ago. Its chef-owner, Andre Soltner, served roast duck with seasonal fruit sauces — I recall raspberries and oranges, for example — always with a perfect balance of ducky richness, fruity sweetness and vinegary tartness (and always carved tableside with skill and style).
Old-fashioned roast duck it was, and Soltner told me the way he cooked it: Brown the duck all over in a skillet, for about 20 minutes over medium-low heat, to render out some of the fat and get the skin-crisping under way; then put it into a 500-degree oven for 45 or 50 minutes. This — as I remember well from our old apartment, which had no window in the kitchen — made smoke and odors. But it also made a killer roast.
That’s what I had planned for our duck, but with late-season peas rather than fruit. Then the thermometer hit what seemed like 110 degrees, and the idea of running the oven at its maximum lost all appeal. Instead, after pan-browning the duck, I seasoned it and roasted it on a rack in a 375-degree oven for 1 hour 11 minutes and 11 seconds. (Repeatedly pressing the “1” button on the timer is far easier than setting it for an hour and 10 minutes or an hour and 15 minutes, don’t you think?) I poured off fat as it accumulated (and used some to fry cubed potatoes).
The day before, I’d made duck stock by browning the neck, feet and wings (from the elbow down), adding carrots, onion and a little celery and letting them brown a bit, too. Then I deglazed with white wine and simmered the ingredients in chicken stock with thyme and parsley and a squirt of tomato paste out of a tube. When it had chilled, the solidified fat lifted off easily. As the duck was roasting, I reduced this stock, adding tarragon (use whatever herb makes sense to you, which will depend on what you plan to serve with the meat). When the bird was out of the oven and resting, I added freshly shelled peas to cook in the sauce and dressed the plates with this before laying crisp-skinned breast and leg pieces on each, with those sauteed potatoes on the side.
There’s something satisfying about Duck One Way: The well-done-but-still-moist breast meat tastes duckier than a rare magret de canard, which can almost be mistaken for beef. And that skin! Crisp, with enough fat to have real flavor and that special feeling in the mouth — the one nothing but an old-fashioned roast can provide.
What, with the sauce and the peas and the potatoes, it was too much for Jackie and me to finish. So the next day we had duck hash, which I suppose means that, in the end, we did wind up having Duck Two Ways.