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Roast Duck Questions

For some reason, I've been afraid of working with duck for several years, even though I love eating the stuff. Perhaps I've read too many horror stories.

But I took the plunge a couple of days ago and ordered two whole ducks from D'Artagnan, so now I'm committed.

After researching recipes I'm thinking of working with this one:


Two general questions:

A) The recipe has lots of positive comments, but a few people commented that the duck was dry. To combat that I'm planning to brine the birds for maybe 5-6 hours before cooking. Will this mess with the crispiness of the skin?

B) When I roast a chicken, I start the process by pouring boiling water over the top, just as I put it in the oven. This tightens up the skin, provides a moister cooking environment, and provides somewhere for the fat to land when rendering so as to avoid smoke and smell. All in all a huge win. Will this work the same for a duck whose skin has been slashed as that recipe suggests?

Thanks, all, for any help/advice. I'm looking forward to finally conquering my duck cooking phobia.

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  1. I don't know the answers to your specific questions and I will be interested to hear from others on that. I noticed that you mentioned "slashing" the skin. You just want to prick holes in it -- a lot of them -- but only through the skin, not into the flesh. It is easy to underprick in what I will call the armpit area and then you will end up with unrendered fat there which is unpleasant. I'm pretty sure what when I have slow-roasted duck it has been at a lower temperature and for a bit longer but the photos in the linked recipe look awesome so it's hard to argue.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GretchenS

      In the recipe she actually cuts a cross-hatch pattern into the skin before roasting, AND pricks it with a paring knife at a regular interval during cooking. Lots and lots of exit holes for all of the fat!

    2. The recipe says roast for 4 hours it will not need that long to cook that's why people are probably saying its dry. Pouring over hot water will open up the pores of the duck so that's a good thing. I would say you do not need to score the duck skin.

      Home cooked duck is great the only draw back is the mess it makes in the oven.

      1 Reply
      1. That recipe seems to me to have too long a roasting time. 4 hours at 300, plus a 400 heat blast of ten minutes? But the blog certainly seems well done, so who knows.

        When I roast a whole duck, I poke holes in the skin, steam it, then roast it quickly in high heat. Very crispy skin. Cooking the duck in parts is my preference, though. I roast leg quarters but like to pan-sear the breasts.

        I've never bothered to brine duck, but the breast meat itself is surprisingly lean, so maybe it could be useful. The skin will be less crispy, most likely, unless you brine a day ahead and then air dry in the fridge.

        If you're not cooking both ducks at once, you can try two approaches!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Bada Bing

          With regard to the long roasting time, I'm planning to use a thermometer and pull the duck when it hits ~155 -- which should eliminate the time factor. Annoying when roast meat recipes specify time rather than temp!

          How long do you tend to steam the duck? Or do you use a thermometer? If so, when do you pull it?

          1. re: davis_sq_pro

            I steam for about 45 minutes and roast at 375 or so for 45 minutes to an hour, checking temp. Here's a Food Network recipe that takes the steam and roast approach:


            The only difference is that I use a two-pan approach. I have a very large multi-tier steaming pot, so I can steam the duck at the top layer, have a layer of potato chunks below that get the fat drizzle, and then roast the potatoes and duck together afterward. Yum!

            Also, the fat can be separated from the steaming water and then rendered down to evaporate all the water. Don't toss that fat! Saves well in the fridge.

            1. re: davis_sq_pro

              My Fannie Farmer cookbook says to roast until the thigh meat reaches 170-180F, and if you like your duck well done, then roast it for an additional 15 minutes after it reaches that temp but be warned that the meat will be dry. (disclaimer: I have not roasted a duck, I always cut them into parts and cook them separately).

              1. re: gimlis1mum

                P.S. Be sure to save the duck carcasses to make a nice duck broth. Use the broth in a rissotto with cognac, dried figs, pine nuts, and leftover duck meat. Or get some rice noodles and have duck noodle soup. Mm mmm.

          2. I made duck last week using the barefoot contessa's recipe. Despite my reservations about poaching the duck in chicken stock first before roasting it in a very hot oven it came out flavorful and moist and the skin was as crispy as I have had in Asian restaurants. Before I put it in the oven I put half an onion and some celery stalks in the cavity. There was also much less smoke since a lot of the fat had rendered in the poaching.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ithimis

              Thanks for the link!

              I did this same basic thing with my Thanksgiving turkey two years ago. (Based on this recipe: http://www.dartagnan.com/51438/rp163/...) ... it worked very well in terms of both giving me better control over meal timing and not having the oven tied up all day long. However, I was not overly pleased with the turkey itself. Results were better than most of the turkey I've had (usually very dry and stringy), but not up to my usual results when I brine and carefully monitor the roasting temperature. Perhaps it works better with a smaller bird -- e.g. duck -- where the poaching time is much shorter?

            2. Search for "amazing 5 hour duck" recipe. I've made it and it was amazing.

              1. Hi, davis_sq_pro:

                IMO: A) no; B) no.

                About the only way I do whole duck any more is brine it as you suggest, smoke it at low temp (basically a kipper) for about an hour, then put it on a rotisserie unti the internal temp is where you want it and the skin is crisp. Generally, it will self-baste without holes or slashes, but a few punctures won't hurt, either

                Have Fun,

                1 Reply
                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Ducks have so much fat on them that drying out isn't as much of a problem as with chicken. Four hours seems way too long. I roast them for two hours at 375 degrees, and just prick the skin with a fork. After two hours check the skin for crispness. If there are moist spots, it probably means there's unrendered fat underneath, so just prick these spots with a fork and put the duck back in the oven for a few minutes.

                  I used the hot water immersion for a roast goose last weekend, using the recipe from CI. This recipe required immersing the goose in boiling water for two minutes, and then air drying it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. The goose came out fine, but I can't compare it to other methods, because I've never used them.

                2. Brine a duck? Heresy! Go with MarkC or other posters and steam or poach, then roast, simple as that. Another approach is pierce the skin, rub on a generous amount of kosher salt, put in the fridge for ~24 hours, then rub off the excess salt and roast. Some call this dry brining (a stupid term, since brine is salt+water), but all you're doing is drying the skin a little so it crisps up nicely, and adding a little salt to the crispy part.

                  1. I have probably cooked over 30 ducks using the "Amazing 5 Hour Roast Duck" recipe since I first came across it in the 1999 Best American Recipes cookbook. It's the only recipe I now use. Starting with a great quality duck is key. I used to buy frozen ducks at the local supermarket, but have now "upgraded" to only roasting D'Atagnan's Pekin duck. (I don't have a good local source for fresh ducks, so started ordering w/ D's about 5 years ago) You will have to sacrifice the moist factor slightly using this recipe, but I prize the crispy skin more! Have never brined one, so I can't comment on that. I have tweeked the recipe by shaving off one hour of the cooking time, starting with the duck facing down. It's plenty cooked by the 4rth hour, and really doesn't need 5. For the remaining 4rth hour, I turn the oven up to 350*. It gets very crispy. I would think any higher would result in the duck smoking. I would never "slash" the skin either. Cross-hatching is always done when cooking duck breast, and not whole ducks.Just prick it plenty without piercing the meat. I also remove the fat from the pan each time it calls for its hourly turn. Have never had a mess in the oven with the fat. Recently, I've started air drying the duck in the frig 1 day prior to roasting it. It truly is AMAZING!!! That's what's gonna be on my table this Thanksgiving. Enjoy!!!

                    1. I cook duck all the time, & have been for years. In fact, I have a "Lola Duck" from D'Artagnan in the freezer at the moment. NO DUCK NEEDS 4 HOURS TO COOK. Good grief!! Duck takes maybe 1/2-hour longer than a chicken, depending on size. Just use a thermometer.

                      Although for many years now I've been roasting my ducks on my good old "Ron Popeil "Showtime" Rotisserie" - yup, the product of many infomercials. The first time I tried it, I was absolutely AMAZED!! No scoring, no pre-steaming or boiling, & yet absolutely ZERO smoke or any other fat problems. Definitely the most juicy, succulent ducks we've ever had. I'll never go back to regular oven-roasting if I can at all help it.

                      But since you'll be roasting in a regular oven, please do re-think the 4-hour thing. That can't be right.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Breezychow

                        I know ducks don't need 4 hours to cook, but this low temp method REALLY works, and has worked for me and MANY for years!!! The high points of this method ...All of the fat is rendered for other use and does result in a AMAZING crispy duck. There's a big difference in your method, rotisserie vs. oven. I was only speaking from my personal experience. No grief necessary. Don't knock it unless you've tried it!

                      2. Thank you all for the many great responses! It's amazing how many different "correct" ways there are to do a seemingly simple thing like roast a bird. I guess the same is true of anything else worthy of attention.

                        I'm going to stick to the original plan, minus the cross-hatching, and with the aid of a thermometer rather than a timer. We'll see how many hours it actually takes.

                        I'll report back success or failure after Thanksgiving. Hopefully with a plate of duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes by my side. Thanks again, everyone!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: davis_sq_pro

                          Reporting back. For those who don't want to read the full thing here's a quick summary: success!

                          Full report:

                          Started with two ducks. Brined both in 1.5 gallons of brine, for 6.5 hours. One brine was dosed with a tincture of five spice and shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice seasoning heavy on orange peel and chile); and the other brine with a tincture of herbes de provence, garlic, and lemon peel.

                          While they brined I rendered fat from the excess skin and enjoyed some cracklings, after which I prepared pate using the livers and some of the fat. Duck is truly a magical culinary animal...

                          After brining I pricked the skins and, just before they went in the oven, poured a tea kettle of boiling water over the top. The water later turned out to be both helpful and problematic. After the first two phases of roasting it seemed to me that the water level was too high and that it was splashing whatever side of the duck was down, so I decided to remove most of it. I siphoned it out into a pot and it had a huge amount of bright yellow rendered fat. During the third phase of the roasting I could hear the fat at the bottom of the pan sizzling, and when I poured all of the fat out after the final roasting stage it was dark brown. This ruined the first part of the fat I'd already collected, so next time I'd definitely leave some water hanging around in the pan -- just not nearly as much.

                          For the actual roasting I used the "convection roast" mode on my oven, and based on what I'd read about convection cooking I flipped the ducks every 45 minutes rather than every hour. This turned out to be just about right -- I hit my target of 165 just before the fourth 45 minute phase was completed. After that each duck was glazed -- one with a mix of hoisin, five spice, togarashi, and honey; and the other with some maple, Grand Marnier, garlic, and herbes de provence. (I tried to mirror and enhance the flavors of the brines in the glazes.) 10 minutes at 400 to caramelize and the ducks emerged looking great.

                          Skin was quite crispy over most of the ducks but a touch under-rendered over the breast. The meat was perfectly cooked, not at all dry. And the glazes really made the skin sing. Even my wife, who had previously claimed to hate duck, asked for seconds. Victory!

                          Thanks again for all of the help and advice. Making the ducks was a breeze, and something I'll definitely do again now that I realize how simple it is. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

                          1. re: davis_sq_pro

                            Hooray! So glad it worked out, and that you got to make a little pate from the livers (yum). It must have been very good if your wife asked for seconds - at dinner the other night, our 3rd DC and myself devoured the rilettes while she politely declined a bite, saying that it wasn't her thing :-)

                            1. re: davis_sq_pro

                              Thanks everyone for this thread-just cooked my first duck! I mainly followed davis - without the brining. I poured a tea kettle of boiling water over the duck but only left abut 1/2 cup in the pan. I had no problem with burning fat. I also used convention, and only needed 45 min a turn and it was ready BEFORE the 4th turn (after 1.5 hours). The meat was the moistest and most tender duck I have ever had. The wings were a bit crispy, but all the other meat cooked evenly. One caveat: some of the skin was crispy, but not both sides. Maybe the final glazing and high heat cooking needs to be on both sides.This recipe sounds more complicated than it is. I will definitely do it again.

                              Also, made a great orange sauce based on an epicurious recipe-very good.

                              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                Sorry - hit return too soon! I also put some baby carrots and quartered onion under the duck before roasting. This meant the duck didn't stick to the pan. Halfway through cooking I tasted a carrot - Delicious! I saved all of them, put in fresh ones, and had great roasted vegetables.

                            2. My daughter (15) makes Tyler Florence's Chinatown Steamed and Roasted Duck whenever she can and it is delicious with a nice crispy skin. Not dry in the least and not overly fatty. Neither is it a difficult recipe, as at her age she can do it nearly by herself (probably could do it entirely by herself if I'd let her).


                              1. I followed the "Amazing 5 hr Roast Duck" recipe with revision advised by Phoebe to shorten an hour, but even then the temperature on thigh and breast were both 190F at the end of 3 hrs which prompted me to get it out of oven sooner than planned. The result was that meat was tender but cooked through and skin not as crispy ( I raised the temp to 350F last 30 minutes).

                                I would like to make the breast medium rare and skin crispy, and based on my experience I think it's not possible to do this with this long roasting time but rather use shorter roasting time under high temp recipe.

                                1. I know this departs from the premise that roast whole duck is the baseline idea, but I recommend parting it out.

                                  The breasts can be pan-seared so as to be nice and rare in the middle, crusty on the outside.

                                  The thighs can be roasted or braised, made into confit, or incorporated into a cassoulet or stew.

                                  The remaining back and neck are fine for stock.

                                  The skin itself can be fried into delicious cracklings.

                                  Rendered fat (below smoke point) should be harvested as golden matter for cooking potatoes and root vegetables.

                                  Ducks are wicked multi-taskers!