Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How to Roast a Duck

In case you haven't discovered, Gwyneth Paltrow has a fabulous blog called GOOP.  She recently published a new cookbook and posted one of her recipes on the blog.  In love with duck after our trip to the southwest, we decided to give Gwyneth's duck ragu recipe a whirl. (Click here for Gwyneth's recipe).  It looked simple enough until I came to the roast the "whole duck" part.

Duck Ragu

After a couple of luckless grocery store trips searching for a headless duck, I had no choice but to take the plunge and buy a head on, feathers intact duck from the boucherie.  Even though my knowledge of the French language hasn't vastly improved, apparently my non-verbal communication skills have.  By the time I left the market Wednesday, I picked out a duck, had it's head and insides removed ( the word "coupe" and a little hand to neck knife gesturing did the trick), seared with a blow torch, and it's little tiny liver sliced and reinserted into the cavity (ok, maybe that was the butcher's idea, but still!  I was quite proud of myself).  And I thought I would never buy a non-headless bird... please.

And that was the most difficult part of the entire duck roasting process.  If you live in a country where you speak the language and know how to drive your car to grocery store, how to roast a duck is going to be the easiest thing you've ever learned...

How to Roast a Duck 

First, make sure you buy the duck without a head and insides removed (otherwise, consult Julia Child or something a lot more sophisticated than this blog).  Once you find the duck and it is sitting on your counter, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cover the duck in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Put in a roaster (or dutch oven) and roast in the oven for 2 hours, flipping the duck over every half hour.  That is it.  Oh, and once it is cooked take out the liver and toss or save and use to make a warm duck liver salad...or get really ambitious and use it to make pate.  (Remember the chicken? Stuffing it with herbs and trying to figure out how to balance the oil and butter to create the best jus... etc... etc...).  Duck is much more low maintenance.  Not to mention the best part about roasting a duck... duck fat.

What to do with Duck Fat

Once the duck finishes cooking and you take it out of the oven, it will be sitting in at least half a cup of duck fat... the most delicious thing ever.  It is divine for roasting potatoes or making matchstick french fries.  (And the Mr. swears it is healthier than many other kinds of oils, which I sort of believe because I have seen duck fat french fries on several swanky menus lately).  Here is my recipe for making duck fat matchstick french fries (I detest thick french fries, so I cut them as thinly as possible to resemble the size of a matchstick...technique I adopted from Ina). 

Duck Fat Matchstick French Fries
1 long oval potato (we used golden potatoes, but I'm sure anything you have is fine)
1 cup of duck fat
1 cup of filler oil (canola, vegetable etc...)
Fleur de sel (or whatever salt you have)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Use a mandolin to slice the potato as thinly as possible, or slice by hand using a sharp knife (slicing across, but not all the way, as many times as you can and then down to cut into thin slices. sort of like you julienne and onion).  In the meantime, heat 1 inch of oil in a large dutch oven or big pot on low (first use duck fat and if you need more, use the filler oil to reach the desired amount).  As you slice the fries, place in a bowl of cold water.  Once the entire potato is sliced, pat the fries with paper towel until completely dry.

Turn the heat up on the oil to medium high until it starts to sizzle (but not bubble).  Adjust heat to keep a sizzle without letting it get too hot (I had it on about 7 of 10 when cooking the fries).  Put half of the fries into the oil and cook for 4-5 minutes until crispy.  Remove with slotted spoon onto paper towel to drain excess oil then put in a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven.  Repeat to cook the second batch of fries. Season with fleur de sel (just a sprinkle) and serve.  Serves 2.

Bon Appetite!

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