The Duck's culinary status is secure. It is, After all, prized by both the Chinese and the French, whose cooking is to gastronomes what Beethoven and Mozart are to connoisseurs of music. Duck-in nearly all its parts and in various preparations-is used for a multi-course banquetat one of China's most famous restaurants. In France, the tour D'ARGENT, a Paris landmark, made its reputation on one dish, pressed duck.

In this country, too, the duck once flew high as a trencherman's favorite.The canvasback duck was among the few things Charles Dickens found to admire in his american travels. The Maitre D' of Delmonico's, when it was the MECCA for elevated gluttoney in the late 1800S, declared the canvasback "The King of Birds."

Progress has not been king to the duck, however, the wild species were thinned to such an extent that today only hunters and friends of hunters enjoy them, while its image changed from thefeathered birds in paintings to a loudmouthed cartoon character in a sailor suit. Donald Duck for dinner. Ugh. Who would want him, even as aguest?

Then, too, the duck has suffered from america's kitchen ice age, freezing became the technologist's toy and the rest of us had to suffer what they wrought. Frozen duck is unspoiled from bacteria, but it's no fun dealing with a rock-like duck so hard it might have been trapped in a glacier only moments before you bought it. And unless the bird is properly thawed, a process that seems to take days, it won't cook properly.

All this is prelude to a development only slightly less significant than the lastest negotiations on a salt treaty: A marketing genius discovered that ducklings don't have to be frozen. One supermarket chain, Safeway, took a gamble and put some fresh ducks in local meat cases. The reult: the ducks have sold so well (at $1.09 a pound) there probably will not be any left for your New Year's Eve dinner. They'll be back, though.

In the meantime there are plenty of frozen ducks available at the same price. It appears that given a choice between fresh and frozen, consumers would rather buy fresh. (What reaction this revelation may bring from the rest of the food industry remains to be seen.) After a stagnant period from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s, duck sales have been climbing. Domestic production is up 50 percent in the past four years to about 15 million, much of which goes to restaurants.

To urban consumers duck appears to come in only one species, White Pekin. More often called the Long Island (a triumph for the chamber fo commerce), these are sold as young ducklings about 7 weeks old with a dressed weight of four to five pounds.

There are other ducks, of course. Hunters bring back dark-fleshed, lean wild Mallard ducks and a few Muscovy are raised and sold. The French cook a variety of ducks-Nantes, Rouen, Barbary, which is one reason why their duck recipes don't always translate well. The chubby Perkin has excellent flavor, but the meat is covered with a generous layer of fat that is the bane of all but cordon bleu cooks.

Prolonged cooking renders the fat, but it also renders the duck very well done and dry, which isn't the way most gourmets like it. Roasting the whole duck is the method favored by restaurant chefs, who cook at high temperature and have apprentices to clean their ovens. For those without self-cleaning ovens and who aren't expeert carvers, one way to ease the problem is to cut the duck into halves or quarters before cooking. (This is easily accomplished with poultry shears, a Chinese cleaver or even a large knife. Trim a way extra skin and fat, then broil the pieces in the oven or over a drip pan in a covered barbecue grill.

Begin with the skin side down, turning the skin to the flame or heating only to brown and crisp the flesh. The late Michael Field developed a complex roasting formula for duck halves. The pieces go into a preheated 350-degree oven and cook, skin side down, for 15 minutes.

They are basted, the heat is raised to 400 and they cook another 15 minutes. Turn them, cook for 10 minutes, then raise the heat to 450 and cook a final 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how well cooked you wish the duck to be.

Duck may be poached, braised, sliced and fried, preserved in fat and smoked.Ducks lovers, like sparerib lovers, object, however, when duck is boiled to render the fat and then roasted. Duck liver has become very popular with the great chefs of Europe and the foie gras crowd. Duck feet are avialable on dim sum menus at several local Chinese restaurants.

ORANGE SAUCE FOR ROAST DUCK

(Makes about 2 cups) 2 tablespoons lard or oil 1 carrot, peeled and diced 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped 2 heaping tablespoons flour 2 cups beef stock or bouillon, heated with duck neck and gizzard iftime allows 2 shallots or scallions, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, crushed but not peeled 2 teaspoons tomato puree 1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 1/2 rib celery, 4 or 5 sprigs parsley, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, all tied in a cheese cloth bag) 3 oranges 5 tablespoons sugar 5 tablespoons vinegar 2 tablespoon liquer Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the lard in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add carrot and onion and cook until they begin to brown. Sprinkle on the flour and lower the heat. Stir until the flour turns a milk-chocolate brown.

Add the heated stock and stir until the sauce is smooth. Add the chopped shallots, garlic, tomato puree and bouquet garni. Simmer, partially covered, for an hour, adding stock if the sauce becomes too thick.

While the sauce is cooking, peel the zest from one orange. Cut it into fine strings and blanch in boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain and pat dry. In a small, heavy saucepan heat the sugar and vinegar until it has reduced to a thick, candylike consistency but still flows. Squeeze 1/2 cup of juice from the oranges. Add it and the orange strips to the pan and simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes.

When the sauce is done, skim off surface fat, then strain it. Mix in the orange mixture, the liqueur and some degazed drippings from the roasting pan. Heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more drippings to cut sweetness, add more liqueur to increase it. Serve sauce quite hot.

Note: This sauce goes well with roast pork as well.

JULIA CHILD'S RAGOUT OF DUCK WITH20 CLOVES OF GARLIC

(4 servings) A 4-to 5-pound duckling 1 head garlic, unpeeled, separated into cloves and roughly chopped 2 medium-size ripe tomatoes 1 tablespoon tomato sauce (if needed for taste and color) 4 whole allspice berries 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds 1/2 teaspoon thyme 1 imported bay leaf 1/2 cup dry white French vermouth 1 cup brown duck stock or beef bouillon Salt and pepper Parsley sprigs

Spilt the duck down the back on both sides of backbone and reserve backbone for duck stock, along with wing ends, which you sever at the elbows. Cut the peel off the gizzard and add to stock ingredients along with the neck. Cut the duck into 4 pieces, giving more breast meat to the wing portions than to the leg portions to even things out. Cut off and discard fatty skin pieces and any interior fat. If you wish to do so-and it makes the best sauce-prepare a duck stock by sauteing the backbone, wing, neck and gizzard peel with 1/2 cup each chopped onions and carrots; when lightly browned, drain off fat, add water to cover, salt lightly, simmer for an hour, strain, add degrease.

Prick the skin of the duck pieces all over at 1/2-inch intervals and brown very slowly on all sides in a heavy chicken fryer or casserole, concentrating especially on the skin sides to render out as much fat as possible. Then drain out fat, add the unpeeled garlic cloves, tomatoes and optional tomato sauce, herbs, spices, vermouth, and stock to the pan, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Brings to a simmer, cover, and simmer slowly for about an hour, turning and basting occasionally, until duck leg and wing meat is just tender when pierced with a sharppronged fork. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes or so, basting occasionally.

Remove duck pieces from pan, cut off the skin, and cut skin into strips. Saute the strips slowly in a covered pan until they brown lightly, crisp and render their fat; drain on paper towels and reserve. Meanwhile, thoroughly degrease the cooking liquid and strain it, pushing the garlic against the sieve to puree it into the liquid; boil down rapidly until sauce is lightly thickened. Return duck pieces to sauce and heat briefly, basting, to warm them.Carefully correct seasoning of sauce, and the duck is ready to serve.

May be done somewhat in advance, if you keep the duck pieces barely warm in their sauce, and reheat to the simmer just before serving.

Arrange duck on a platter and spoon the sauce over it. Decorate with parsley sprigs and sprinkle cracklings over the duck (you may wish to include the duck's liver, sauteed as the cracklings cook).

From "Julia Child & Company

ROAST DUCK WITH GREEN PEPPERCORNS

(8 servings) 2 ducks, cavity fat and innards removed, seasoned with salt and pepper and trussed 1/4 cup brandy or apple brandy 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or bouillon, heated with duck necks and gizzards 1 to 2 tablespoons green peppercorns, drained Butter

Roast ducks in a preheated 400-degree oven for 1 hour, using a heavy pan. Begin with breast side up and turn after 30 minutes. Pour off fat, turn ducks again and cook another 30 to 40 minutes at 450 degrees.

Transfer ducks to a platter. Pour fat from roasting pan, then return ducks and pour flaming brandy over them.

Shake pan until flame dies, then remove ducks to platter and keep warm. (KEY OFF)(KEYWORD)dd stock to the pan and heat. Scrape up hardened drippings and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain into a saucepan, reheat with peppercorns and season with salt and pepper. Turn flame very low while cutting ducks into quarters, then skim surface fat from sauce. Whisk a tablespoon or two of butter into the sauce and serve at once.

LUIGI ZARA'S DUCK BREASTS WITH APRICOTS

(6 servings) 6 duck breast halves (reserve legs for another dish, use skeletons to make stock) Salt and freshly ground pepper 3 cups canned orange juice 1 packet apricot gelatin powder 6 ounces dried apricots 2 tablespoons sugar 4 ounces orange liqueur

Cut away breast halves with the skin.Preheat oven to 450 degrees, Salt and pepper the breast and place them in a heavy roasting pan. Cook for 1 hour, spooning off grease from time to tome.

Remove breasts to a platter lined with paper toweling and keep warm. Pour grease from pan, add some orange juice and, over heat atop the stove, bring to a boil and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon. Mix gelatin with remaining juice, pour into pan and simmer until it reduces by 1/3 and thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in orange liqueur. Tast and adjust seasoning. Meanwhile simmer dried apricots in water, to which sugar has been added, until softened. Drain. To serve, place duck breasts on plates or a serving platter, top with apricots and a light coating of sauce. Pass remaining sauce in a gravy boat.

LEFTOVER DUCK WITH BEAN SPROUTS

(2 to 4 servings) 2 to 3 tablespoons oil 2 scallions, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger (optional) 1 to 2 cups cooked duck meat, fat and skin removed and cut into small pieces 1/2 pound bean sprouts 2 tablespoons soy sauce Pepper to taste 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil, or to taste

Heat large skillet or wok. Add oil, then scallion and optional ginger. Toss briefly, then duck meat and toss until heated through. Add soy and sprouts, toss until lightly coated with oil, then cover pan for about 2 minutes, or until sprouts are softened but still crisp. Season dish and stir in seasame oil. Serve at once.

DUCK SOUP

Place duck bones (plus neck, gizzards, wing tips, etc.) in a pot. Add chicken pieces or a bouillon cube or two if you wish. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. Skim scum, then add 1 or 2 chopped carrots, a sliced onion and a bouquet garni. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain broth, taste and cook down if it lacks flavor. Use for making sauces or reheat with rice, wild rice or barley to make a soup.