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Dec 23, 2009 05:26 PM

Alton Brown's steamed/roasted duck parts - total, utter failure

Don't you love the feeling of spending hours making a special dinner, only to have it end in something almost totally inedible?

I usually use Bittman's steaming/roasting method for a whole bird. But last night as I drifted off to sleep, I watched an old "Good Eats" wherein Alton quartered a duck, steamed it, then roasted it skin-down in a preheated cast iron pan in the oven. Theoretically, you get perfect, crispy skin on the meat, and you then repurpose the fat to wilt some chard and shallots for your side.

Looked up the recipe on and followed it to the letter. However, what I ended up with was leg quarters done in the time specified with a crispy skin that clung to the pan like latex paint (though it was good scraped off with a spatula -- which of course also flung hot duck fat on the wall). But the breasts needed a good 20 - 25 degrees after the specified seven minutes. Their skin was theoretically crispy on the outside, but almost none of the fat rendered out. When they finally got to temperature at almost 15 minutes (instead of seven), they were tough as an old tire.

Anyone done this recipe with success? I'm totally discouraged.

And I even burned the $%#%^ fat while rendering the extra skin. I reached that millisecond where it goes from perfection to "Uh oh, you stink, and now so do I."

Even my rosti, which I thought I could do with my hands tied behind my back, came out tough and gray.

This has not been my night.

Recipe link:

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  1. My condolences. I've never had any luck cooking duck, and I've ben trying for years. Something about the tough dark meat and the fatty skin defies all my attempts to tame them.

    HO WAH,

    1. I've had this happen. Not specifically with this recipe but it's happened to me. More than once too.

      It's even worse when you can see it failing and you don't know whether to take control of the reigns or continue on having faith in the recipe working out in the end.


      1. Very sorry to hear. But this is just another reason for me why recipes should only be viewed as general guidelines and never as failproof instructions.

        1. Did you use a cast iron pan and add the breasts after the legs cooked? I'm surprised it stuck to the pan. Without knowing what Alton was up to, I think he meant for the breasts to only be cooked to medium rare, at which they are very tender and juicy. Did you score the breast skin first, to faciliate rendering of the fat? The recipe suggests this but it wasn't really clear that he was writing about the breasts. Even if you do get the skin from the breast crispy, there will still be a bit of fat under it, but it's better than overcooked breast meat.
          I've cooked duck in this manner and never had a problem. I'm sorry it didn't work out for you. In theory, this recipe should work very well, but that's in theory.

          1. Too bad. Give it another try. I made his recipe, following it except for letting it brine longer & it came out great.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Eaterouter

              I made it the other night--followed the directions & it was perfect. Breasts were completely done--in fact, I wouldn't have minded them a bit less done, they were closer to overdone than underdone. But I was pleased. Here's my question: instead of 45 minutes over steam, do you think I could use the pressure cooker for the "steaming" portion of this recipe? Say, 15 minutes in the cooker, then the 475 finish in the oven?

              1. re: mommasue

                No, because the pressure cooker will cook the flesh far faster than will ordinary steam.

                The steam is partially for the cooking process, but primarily to render some of the fat from the skin without the spattering and mess of other methods.