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Jul 21, 2011 03:19 PM

Need duck advice

So I found a local farmer who raises Muscovy ducks -- pastured, organic, humane, etc. I got one duck at 7.5 pounds for $12, and will get a second duck next week. I'm getting ducks eggs from him as well, at $2.50 a dozen.

I want to render the fat, and I want to try my hand at confit de canard as a gift for a friend, and also for myself. I'll keep the carcass to throw into the slow cooker for one to two days to make a duck stock -- I was even given the duck feet.

As an aside, I have preserved limes that I could use to stuff the duck, as well as apples and onions (lots of other produce as well, but trying to keep it somewhat simple).

What is the best thing to do with my duck?

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  1. You can trim as much fat as you can from the duck and render it down. If you can get enough fat to confit the legs and then go ahead and continue to confit the legs and I also do the wings. You can score the breasts and cook them for dinner straight away then use the rendered fat from the breasts for the confit of the other parts.

    After doing several ducks you will build up a good supply of duck fat so you can do a confit on the fly.

    4 Replies
    1. re: scubadoo97

      Should I not even think about saving and confiting the legs, etc., until after I've already saved the fat from a couple of ducks first? Should I cut off the skin and as much excess fat as I can and render in a pot? Or is it easier to just roast the entire duck and save all the drippings? Would seasonings ruin that?

      I'm also wondering if, since I will have duck stock by then, I should use the second duck to make duck soup.

      I don't know! Duck is a dark world, full of mystery.

      1. re: scubadoo97

        Do you need to keep duck fat in the freezer or will it keep ok in the fridge?

        1. re: chicgail

          It'll keep for months and months in the fridge, or darned near forever in the freezer.

          1. re: chicgail

            l am sure it will keep in the fridge a long time, and that is where l store the confit under it's fat cover, but as l have a lot l store most in freezer, where perhaps mistakenly assume it will last longer than l will.

        2. I've gotten as much as two cups of fat from a single duck before, but that included the leg skin and much of the breast fat (I was making a galantine.)

          If I were in your (enviable) position? I'd pretty much do as the first poster said; break down the bird (breasts w/ skin, legs, carcass, all trimmed fat/skin plus wings.) Sear the breasts; make stock from the carcass; put all the fat and skin you can get in a pan to render.
          Couple of choices with the legs. You can see if you can get enough fat from this duck to confit them, or you can take the skin off them, render it, braise the legs skinless (great in a duck ragu, for example) -- then by the time you've rendered your next duck, you'll have more than enough fat to confit its legs. Does that make any sense? It's too hot to think.

          I have saved drippings from roasts (duck, pork) to use for other purposes, but I've never been satisfied. You want your rendered fat to have a clean flavour, generally. Enjoy your ducks!

          1. In France, ducks are almost always broken down and cooked separately -- the breast (magret) is cooked similar to steak, and the legs, thighs, and wings are confited.

            Only at Christmas do you see anyone roasting the whole bird.

            Depends on the bird -- you *might* be able to get enough fat from a single bird to confit the legs and wings -- can you ask your supplier for more skin/fat?

            1. This farm sounds like a great find for you. (What region are you in?) I'd wait a spell and gather the fat from several ducks first, and then try the confit approach.

              For the first duck or two, follow the other suggestions here: break it down, because the parts really cook quite differently. Virtually every part of the duck is great for something.

              You'll do well to check out Paula Wolfert's book Cooking of Southwest France for lots of recipes and also a definitive discussion of confit technique, if you go down that road. Either the older (1980s) or the newer (2000s) edition will suit, although only the newer one describes a second confit technique involving a plastic bag, and that technique does not require so much fat (it's sous-vide style, I presume, but I haven't studied that part of the book; I do classical style confit).

              22 Replies
              1. re: Bada Bing

                I'm in the Midwest -- I do feel incredibly lucky to have found this farmer. He doesn't advertise on the web because then he'd get more business than he could handle; instead, he relies on word of mouth. He raises ducks and chickens, and also rabbits (I forgot to ask what kind of rabbits). He also sells produce and butter from his Amish neighbor at extremely good prices. And he drives to the city once a week to go directly to the houses of his customers to sell. Like I said, I feel extremely lucky -- and nervous, like this is too good to last. He did say that his meat processor just raised the price by $4, and unless he can find someone cheaper, he'd have to pass that on to me.

                I'm not sure if he'd have extra fat, but I could ask. When I asked about his ducks, he said that he didn't have any right then he could sell, that he had to send a duck to the meat processor first. So the duck was killed especially for me -- and I feel a moral obligation to do good by this duck!

                I'm also looking at stocking up on large quantities of vegetables while they last. He suggested that he could sell me, say, a bushel of tomatoes. I nodded calmly, but inside my head, my eyes went wide with barely contained panic. So many! And I've never canned before. I'm wondering if I should stick to traditional canning, or if I want to try keeping at least some tomatoes in a brine and with a layer of olive oil on top. I've been checking out the book "Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning," foreward by Deborah Madison.

                Back to the ducks -- I'm going to check out Paula Wolfert's book. I like the idea of making a ragu with the legs. What do you think of the idea of marinating the breasts in the juice of the preserved limes, and cooking that all together? I hear that citrus goes well with duck, but maybe that will overpower the meat.

                I'm looking forward to my new ducky lifestyle!

                1. re: lapelosa

                  pick up a copy of the Ball Blue Book -- it's the diary of canning -- and you'll laugh to see just how unbelievably easy it is to can tomatoes.

                  1. re: lapelosa

                    Marinating a thin cut of any meat in strong citrus for any length of time is generally not a great idea -- the acid denatures the proteins and makes it mushy and grayish. If you like citrus, make a lime based sauce and use it when you plate.

                    Re: your fortune bounty of good duck, one strategy is grill the (skinless) breasts during the summer and freeze the thighs, legs and fat and make confit during the winter. Over the course of grilling season, you'll collect plenty of makin's for confit. While I' m a huge fan of seared skin-on breast with the skin rendered crispy and the meat still rare, in the height of the summer I make things like fajitas with grilled skinless breasts and save the fat for confit making. Grilling skin-on breasts is often an exercise in pyrotechnics anyway.

                    NB: Freeze the carcasses and when you have enough to make it worthwhile, roast them and make stock and/or demiglace. Very useful to have on hand.

                    1. re: rjbh20

                      Yes -- absolutely remove the skin before grilling. Pyrotechnics is definitely the right word for it if you leave the skin on!

                    2. re: lapelosa

                      About citrus and duck, I'd steer you away from the lime marinade. It's more conventional to think of duck and citrus in terms of a sweetness effect (like "orange sauce") than an acid effect, such as lemon or lime. Also, as has been noted, marinating for much time in an acid like lime juice will tend to break down the meat texture. Duck breast is great pan-seared, either without a sauce or with something intensely savory/sweet, like a port wine reduction or a berry sauce.

                      1. re: Bada Bing

                        +1 on berry sauce, although deglazing the pan with a little Cointreau or Gran Marnier is a wonderful thing.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          I have raspberries in the freezer.....?

                          Gran Marnier, check. Definitely something to keep in the house, as a gift for the duck.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Hellooooooooooo. Not only do I have frozen raspberries and basic red and a white wines, but I also just performed an inventory of the cupboard and found, way in the back, unopened bottles of both Triple Sec and a black raspberry liqueur (bought last summer after I gorged myself on black raspberries growing wild in the neighborhood). I can get creative with the sauce after all. With freshly ground cinnamon and ginger root... this can be good.

                            In the future, I want to try something with all the dates I have in a jar. And I'll probably load up on dried apricots as well.

                            1. re: lapelosa

                              Duck is *divine* with dried apricots or with prunes -- braise the legs with either (or both) -you'll be amazed how good it is.

                              1. re: lapelosa

                                Re duck with berries, I really like this duck with blackberry sauce; the sauce is also good made with raspberries. Perhaps the sauce will be an inspiration for using your ingredients. Grand Marnier would be an excellent addition, or use instead of the cognac.


                                Also, if you are a fan of Chinese roast duck, this recipe is a good stovetop approximation that I find delicious (I make it with 4 leg-thigh pieces, though it calls for a cut-up whole duck). It also renders a ton of fat for keeping.


                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                  Oh my goodness! How did I miss that Bittman recipe? It sounds delicious--even if it didn't render a ton of fat. Thanks for the link.

                                  1. re: JoanN

                                    I have to second that. I love the Bittman recipe and want to try it for next week's duck.

                                    Duck is really much more like red meat, isn't it? I pan seared the breasts in a cast iron skillet, then finished in the oven at 250. I made a berry sauce with raspberries, red wine, and the black raspberry liqueur. I found the sauce to be quite good, but the meat itself to be quite.... chewy. I'd much prefer a more tender duck, not to mention an easy way of rendering the fat, and I adore spices, so I'll try the Bittman recipe next time and see how that goes. I just have to continue to work on my carving skills.

                                    1. re: JoanN

                                      Apologies for typo. I finished in the oven at 350, for about 15 minutes. The meat was done but still red inside, so not overdone. I just in general prefer cooking methods involving moisture and low heat.

                                      There's quite a bit of meat left on the back. I bet it'll make a great soup.

                                    2. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                      I should note that I usually reduce the amount of brown sugar in the Bittman recipe by half or so, as the full amount makes the sauce too sticky and sweet, in my experience. This really does have spot-on flavor.

                                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                        Could I substitute regular ol' white wine for the rice wine or sherry, do you think?

                                        1. re: lapelosa

                                          you could, but the flavor will be *significantly* different -- white wine really doesn't have enough oomph to help duck much (neither does rice wine, IMO) -- stick with the sherry-cognac-armagnac-brandy end of the spectrum.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            Advice taken. I do believe in being economical and cooking with what you have, instead of going out and buying loads of ingredients each time you want to try a new recipe. However, the success of that depends on knowing what to keep around the house. (Although it also helps if you just stick to one cuisine, which I have trouble doing. I'm adventurous and like to try new things.) So having sherry or brandy or whatever around the house would certainly help to open up the possibilities.

                                            I do like the idea of making duck a regular part of my diet, but there's going to be trial and error involved as I figure out what I like. Cooking the breasts like a steak is the most straightforward method -- however, I don't really like steak all that much, so it's not for me. Too much meat all at once. I did saute a large zucchini in the duck fat left over from cooking the breasts, as a side, and that was nice.

                                            Sorry as I ramble on and on about duck.... I'm going to check out Paula Wolfert's book from the library today.

                                          2. re: lapelosa

                                            Rice wine is the first choice for this recipe because the glaze is the traditional one for Chinese roast duck, and it's a key ingredient in many Chinese marinades and sauces. Dry sherry is the usual suggested substitute for shao xing rice wine, and still gives the right flavor. If you have neither rice wine or dry sherry, brandy or even whiskey would work better than white wine, probably, though you'd have to take care in deglazing if using high-proof spirits, of course..

                                        2. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                          I made the Bittman duck tonight. I had a duck in the freezer with another recipe in mind (there’s a Jamie Oliver technique I’m eager to try; it will have to wait), but your comment that it “renders a ton of fat” made me change my mind (there’s a cassoulet in my near future). Unfortunately, I didn’t go back and read your post beforehand, so added the full ½ cup of brown sugar. You’re right; it’s too much. Nonetheless, even with the full amount of sugar, it’s a terrific recipe. Thanks for linking to it. Curious what you serve it with. I just made some plain brown rice; okay, but not inspired.

                                          1. re: JoanN

                                            I'm glad to hear you liked it as much as I do, Joan. I've only ever served a simple vegetable side with it, maybe something like stir-fried bok choy if I wanted to keep it Chinese-ish, or whatever else was convenient or appealed that day. No rice for me.

                                  2. re: lapelosa

                                    Are you by any chance in Indiana? Sounds like you're buying from my supplier!

                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                      Nope, I'm in Omaha. Bless the small-time farmer.

                                2. Like 842's idea to ask for extra skin/fat from farmer. You need the fat not only for cooking but to save/preserve the confit by storing it under a layer of the cooled fat.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                    How would you get extra skin/fat? I've never heard of that; doesn't the skin come with the duck?

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                                    1. re: AngelaE8654

                                      the skin comes with the duck, but there's usually a fair amount left over from the butchering process. Ducks store an enormous amount of fat just under their skin -- not in the meat -- and so if the producer is processing other birds, it's quite likely that there's some skin and fat left over from the butchering process.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        That's good to know about the butchering process -- that means I could probably ask my farmer for extra fat after all.

                                        I can report that I finished cutting up the bird -- will cook the breasts tomorrow -- and I can further report that I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I'm going to have to read a primer on how to cut up a chicken. I looked for joints, and I got the leg to cut away, but most of the thigh stayed on the carcass. I hacked off the neck and saved it along with the duck feet for future stock. Cooked the liver in butter and ate that as I was working, as a treat. In the end, I got about a pound of skin and fat.

                                        I don't have a grill, so I'll probably cook the breasts in a pan. Bone in, of course.

                                        1. re: lapelosa

                                          Glad you got to enjoy the liver. It is a cooks treat for sure.

                                          You can easily find the joint between the thigh and the body by pulling the thigh out until you pop the joint. then you can see the joint and cut through it and not bone. After a couple of tries you will not have to pop the joint since you will begin to know where the joint is.

                                          1. re: lapelosa

                                            Most all recipes for duck breasts (and therefore for cooking techniques) will be for boneless breasts. With bone-in breasts, I'd recommend scoring the skin and fat in a crosshatch pattern, browning skin side down in a pan on the stove, flipping, and then roasting. Duck breast is best cooked medium rare to medium (still pink).

                                            Also, just about everything (potatoes, vegetables, eggs) is divine cooked in duck fat. If you search for 'duck fat' on the Home Cooking board, especially if you use Advanced Search and choose all years, you'll see lots of great ideas.

                                            Re the carcass and soup, check out this thread, where MMRuth posted about a wonderful-sounding soup (scroll down for the full recipe):

                                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                              The recipe for the soup, and its call for red currant jelly, btw, reminded me of a rant quietly simmering within me for quite some time: one cannot buy currants, black or red, in the United States, unless you are lucky and happen to be in the right place.

                                              I like berry foraging, and after black raspberries are done, then the black currants come in. Both grow wild around here, which is the only reason I know about them at all -- and while black raspberries are very, very good, black currants are absolutely DIVINE. Last summer I cooked them down into a sauce, and that was wonderful. This summer, I enjoyed them in smoothies. They are incredibly good, but rather difficult and time consuming to gather wild. So I would like to be able to continue eating black currants, so I did a search online. Found out that their cultivation had been banned for a century until recently when, in New York at least, that ban got overturned. So I found a purveyor of black currants online, $15 for a five-pound bag, not bad at all -- until I found out that shipping is over $50.

                                              Please, let black currants be a regular part of my life!

                                              a berry fanatic

                                              1. re: lapelosa

                                                only thing you omitted -- instead of reading "unless you are lucky and happen to be in the right place", you should have added "and have access to an astronomical line of credit to be able to purchase them".