So James and I hosted Christmas Eve dinner in our new home and I decided that I wanted to tackle cooking something that was uncharted for me... roasting a whole duck. As I've mentioned in the past, I consider duck to be the pinnacle of all poultry and thought it would be the perfect way to kick off the holidays. Being that this was new territory however, I had to consult the professionals for some advice and Alton [Brown] and Julia [Child] certainly did not lead me astray.
First and foremost, you need to start this process 4-5 days before you actually want to eat your meal. Leave the whole Peking duckling in the refrigerator over night to thaw, then by removing the innards and the neck which were neatly tucked in the cavity and set those aside (for some duck neck sausage and liver mousse later). Next, you need to butterfly the bird to help insure even cooking (unlike a chicken or turkey, ducks are shaped differently because they paddle rather than walk which can lead to uneven cooking). This basically involves folding the wings under and cutting out the spine with a pair of sturdy kitchen shears (I know this sounds unpleasant but I promise, it's not that bad). This is when we started our scrap pot for our duck stock. The spine is full of flavor and I don't believe in wasting anything you don't have to... but more on that later. Score the area between the breasts gently and flip over your duck. It should now be laying flat in well, a butterfly shape at this point. Now you want to VERY GENTLY score the skin over the breasts to help the fat escape during the roasting process. Use a boning knife (the long, skinny, really sharp one) and slice sideways (blade pointing to the side, not down into the bird) along each breast panel. You just want to slit the skin into the fat, not cut down into the meat. Now for every pound of duck, you want to use 1 tablespoon of koshering salt and coat your duck on both sides and gently massage it in. Place the bird on the roasting pan that comes with your oven (the two piece pan with slits on the top) and place a paper towel in the bottom portion. Now comes the easy part: leave your duck, uncovered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Yes, 3-4 days. The idea is to let the salt draw the moisture out of the skin and get it to separate from the fat to a parchment like consistency. This is what gives you that deliciously crisp skin when you roast it. It's going to look dried out and get a slight grey color on the drumsticks... this is good, so don't let it freak you out.
Now, once the duck has cured, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the paper towel from the bottom compartment of the roasting pan and cook your duck for 30 minutes. Rotate your bird and then cook for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the duck from the oven and raise the heat to 475 degrees. Once the oven has reached temperature, return to duck for 12 minutes. This is to crisp the skin and bring the bird to 180 degrees internal temperature. I know this is a high temp for poultry, but because we cured it initially, the meat will still be moist and juicy... I promise! Allow the duck to rest for 5 minutes and carve to serve.
Drain off the rendered fat from the bottom of the roasting pan into a container and save for roasting vegetables, potatoes and general cooking. Duck fat is more or less the equivalent of culinary gold and I promise anything cooked in it will miraculously taste 300% better.
Once you've taken all the meat off, add the carcass to your stock pot along with any vegetable peels, cores and scraps from the prep of your side dishes (we used onions, carrots, sunchokes, fennel, parsnips, celery root, shallots, garlic and corn). Add one bottle of white wine and then cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Once is starts to bubble, reduce to a simmer and leave on the heat for 6 hours. This will extract all of the flavor from the bones and vegetables and give you a fantastic, aromatic stock for soups and sauces. You can jar and freeze your stock for up to 3 months.
Any leftover duck meat (pending there are leftovers), makes a great pizza. We used a multigrain dough from the grocery store (yes, I do condone some shortcuts) stretched thin over a cookie sheet. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Brush the dough with a tablespoon of duck fat (see, I told you saving it would pay off) and bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, flip, brush the other side with 1 tablespoon of duck fat and bake for another 5 minutes. Cover the warm crust with 10 slices of drained (pressed between paper towels) buffalo mozzarella ( you can also use a fresh whole milk mozzarella), the leftover duck meat and any left over roasted vegetables from your dinner. If you like a really crispy crust like I do, egg wash the edges. Bake the pizza for an additional 7 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is fully melted. Sprinkle with fresh thyme finely chiffonade basil.
So by following my mantra of let nothing go to waste, we not only had a great meal for Christmas Eve, we had delicious leftovers and enough stock for over a gallon of soup (or a fabulous duck consume!).