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My first homemade duck-whole bird or breast only?

I'm considering tackling my first homemade duck for either Christmas or New Year's. It'll just be me and SO and we're both up for the adventure so the accepted risk is higher thab if it were for a larger crowd. Would you recommend a whole duck or breast only?

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    1. re: rjbh20

      What's the secret? Skin side down low and slow to render the fat, then flip to finish? Looks great. I wanted to keep it simple.

      1. re: fldhkybnva

        The fat layer is scored with a knife first to help render it.

        The breast is the best way to control how rare (or not) you like it.

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          Correct, but not too low. Medium heat in a cast iron skillet & pour off the fat once or twice. Score the skin if you like the pattern, otherwise not necessary.

          1. re: rjbh20

            So the breast doesn't 'release' much fat?

            1. re: c oliver

              It releases plenty. I get about 1/2 cup from 3 breast halves.

              1. re: rjbh20

                I thought scoring the breasts allowed for the fat release.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Not necessary at all -- the skin is plenty porous.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I always thought it was a combo of making sure the breast stayed as flat to the pan as possible ( that somehow the cooking skin would cause it to curl up some) as well as rendering the fat.....

                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      Sorry, I missed this post. I had this instruction when doing a whole duck in the 5-hour mode so "flat to the pan" wouldn't seem an issue. I've cooked one duck in my life so in NO WAY have a clue :)

          1. I did the pretty famous Five Hour Roast Duck and it was great!. Probably only took four hours.


            8 Replies
            1. re: c oliver

              I came across that yesterday which is why I started pondering a whole duck

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                I think it was as easy as the Zuni chicken and really good. I think it's pretty foolproof so you won't wind up with nothing to eat :)

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  The five hour duck recipe is pretty fool-proof. 'cept that it takes 5 hours :-)

                  I've had fab results with just breasts (scoring the skin so you end up with diamond shaped slits) starting them skin down in a *cold* pan that you heat to med-hot, no fat needed.

                  The fat renders out so that the breasts cook in their own fat.

                  Once the skin is fairly crispy and most of the fat rendered you can turn the breasts around to sear the other side and let them cook to a perfect med-rare.

                  I would make these more often if I had access to duck that actually tastes like duck. The d'Artagnan brand magret duck, sadly, is pretty flavorless.

                  1. re: linguafood

                    For my duck with figs, what duck breast should I be on the look out for?

                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                      I honestly can't tell ya, but I'd recommend anything *but* the d'Artagnan brand.

                  2. re: c oliver

                    I've done the Five Hour Duck a number of times - it's easy and always comes out great. Personally I prefer slow-cooked duck leg to breast cooked by any method, and as an added bonus, if you do the whole bird you get to keep all that delicious duck fat. You haven't lived 'til you've tasted potatoes fried in duck fat!

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I've made this a number of times. It's really good, and easy.

                    2. If you do a whole duck, I would take it apart and do different preps for the legs and breast. The legs are delicious braised, roasted, etc, but you want them cooked through, whereas the breast is best medium rare. Since it's just the two of you, duck two ways will work perfectly - one breast half and one leg quarter each!

                      FWIW, I've done the 5-hour roast duck and it was ok, but the breast meat is simply NOT interesting when it's well done, IMO.

                      1. I will vote breast. Agreed with others... if you have whole duck, do separate preparations for them.

                        1. Whole duck

                          This way you can do 3 separate Chowhound posts after your Xmas duck fest:

                          1. "My Amazing Duck Dinner"

                          2. "Best way to make duck stock?"

                          3. "How best to use duck stock?"

                          It's a win-win-win and win!

                          1. Hi, fldhkybnva:

                            I'll take a contrarian view here, especially if you're thinking of farm-raised. I recently tried roasting one of the whole frozen birds carried by Costco, and it roasted much like a normal-sized chicken. IMO, there is enough useable meat to justify a whole bird. Then there is the matter of the stock you can make with the carcass. If you have access to a rotisserie, even better.

                            Wild birds I'll cook whole or just the joined breast, but if I cook them whole, I mostly just serve the breasts boned and sliced and the rest goes in the stockpot.


                            1 Reply
                            1. if you opt for whole, time the roast for the breast meat, and reserve lesser done legs to cook a bit more in a confit in a few days. (and for love of what little is good and right in this world save every last drop of rendered fat for roasting/frying potatoes and also the carcass to render the most killer Tom Yum broth ever)

                              1. I roasted a whole duck once about 20 years ago, and was so disappointed I haven't tried since. (Flabby skin, overcooked)

                                But that was me! YMMV. I love duck and my favorite is at the Four Seasons Restaurant in NYC. If you love roast duck with crispy to die for skin, this is a MUST TRY!

                                For Christmas, my daughter saw a recipe online by Patricia Wells for Seared Duck Breast with Fresh Figs and Black Currant Sauce and she asked if we could have it. Can't refuse the kid on Christmas, so here I go again, attempting to make duck. The recipe is straightforward and looks easy but I'm concerned again about a thick layer of fat underneath the skin.


                                1. This was on my bucket list, too, and I did it a few months ago. I roasted a whole duck (using Barefoot Contessa's recipe). There isn't a huge amount of meat on a duck so it was good for a meal for two, and, as others have pointed out, it made great stock.

                                  1. We used to do whole duck and found it really messy and not a lot of meat... we now sear duck breast and serve with fruit chutney or balsamic reduction and brown rice for Christmas Eve dinner. It is lovely!

                                    1. Whole duck. So much more fun in carving a whole bird.

                                      And think of all that duck fat to save for roasting potatoes. Not to mention using the carcass to make stock (and that's after picking off the bits for a duck salad lunch).

                                      9 Replies
                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Worth noting that duck bones are far harder than chicken bones. Keep that in mind if you intend to hack it up, whether before cooking or after. There's not a great deal of edible meat on a roast duck. Forget the wings. A few bites per leg.
                                          So in that respect, doing just the breasts makes sense.

                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            A leg & thigh yields about as much meat as a breast. I get 4 meat servings per duck. Many duck mole entrees at better Mexican restaurants are the leg & thigh, Mesa in Dallas is a fine example.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Either very modest portions - or large duck. There've been threads about how many ducks needed for a dinner party. If memory serves, the majority of posts favored half a duck per person, which is only slightly on the generous side.

                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                For "family" we do one duck for 3 or 4 people (you're right, it's not a lot of meat). For guests, I'd do 2 ducks for 4 or 5 people.

                                              2. re: Veggo

                                                Veggo do you have a preferred roasting temp?

                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                  If you Google "5 hour duck", that's pretty much the way I do them, but I sometimes reduce the total cooking time to closer to 4 hours by doing the turns at 45 minute intervals rather than an hour.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    I agree with Veggo. The amazing 5 hour duck recipe is truly amazing. I have made it for a number of friends and they all loved it. It is easy and very deliccious!

                                          2. Check out how Jacques and Julia do whole duck...this is a great preparation. http://www.hulu.com/watch/233283

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: ccbweb

                                              would love to. So sad Hulu will not work outside USA!

                                            2. If you want to do a whole duck, a rotisserie works well provided you have indirect heat and a drip pan. Still prefer the rare breast.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: rjbh20

                                                I think I'm going to go with the breast and serve with a simple pan gravy. What temp do you shoot for? 120F?

                                              2. A vote for breast. This recipe has been our Christmas dinner for years (tip re the Earl Grey tea involved: keep it in the bags then you don't have to strain the sauce):


                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: waver

                                                  I like the idea of searing and then roasting for a bit in that Epicurious recipe. I may do that with the Duck and Figs.

                                                2. I tried my hand at duck breast for the first time this Thanksgiving. I used the scored skin/low heat/skin side down method that I found here on Chow accompanied by roasted wild mushrooms with shallots & red wine. The duck was delicious and was actually pretty easy to do. I am considering repeating the meal for NYE.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: KatoK

                                                    wow, that was my plan exactly - red wine mushroom pan sauce. Do you have a link to the recipe?

                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                      From Epicurious:


                                                      I ended up using more mushrooms than indicated and I was glad, because we ended up with a bit extra.

                                                      One lesson learned though, if you serve the duck together with the mushrooms, fan the duck OVER them so that you don't undo the hard work you did to crisp the skin.

                                                  2. Having just finished a whole duck.....just do the breast. There is so much fat and the aroma lingers in the house for days. A breast with a Port wine pan sauce would be my preference.

                                                    Afterthought P.S.: Duck breast may be a perfect candidate for the Sicilian under-a-brick method. All I recall for now is that the marinated breast must be dried thoroughly with the pan and foil-wrapped bricks well-heated in a 400 degree oven. Put the breasts skin side down on the heated pan and the hot bricks on top. This way, the interior is moist and the skin is crackly crisp. I will be working on this. Please report back if you try it first.CP

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                      I do a variation of that using a cast iron bacon press, the kind you see at diners. Works a dream

                                                    2. There's no single technique to preparing a duck: they all work.

                                                      I prefer roasting a whole duck. It's pretty straightforward and gives me the opportunity to simultaneously roast the potatoes and carrots in the duck fat. Yum.

                                                      A big benefit to roasting a whole duck is the amount of fat you can reserve, the carcass(!), and the opportunity to salvage lots of little pieces parts that will make their way into your morning hash (poached eggs and sparkling wine go without saying).

                                                      10 Replies
                                                        1. re: steve h.

                                                          What's your method for a whole duck? Do you remove the legs when the breast is done to avoid some of the "issues" mentioned here?

                                                              1. re: steve h.

                                                                +2. Cook the duck. The Whole duck.

                                                            1. re: steve h.

                                                              Considering the amount of fat that's rendered, don't your vegetables get just about floating in the fat? 'Course I've been on record here saying how much I dislike mushy vegetables :)

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                No worries.

                                                                I use a 17x13 roasting pan with a rack.

                                                                Potatoes come out crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The large carrot chunks are on the soft side but just bursting with flavor. Duck fat will do that.

                                                                1. re: steve h.

                                                                  For some reason, I've missed a bunch of posts here. So your potatoes and carrots are on the rack? That explains it then.

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    Nope. Potatoes and carrots are in the pan under the rack. I throw them in halfway through the roasting process. Big carrot chunks are key.

                                                            2. I had some skinless wild duck breasts that were given to me. For something a little different I ended up making duck schnitzel.They were quite good, served along with a simple salad.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                                1. re: emglow101

                                                                  were the breasts sliced thin or pounded flat?

                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                    They were small breasts. I forgot to ask what breed. I lightly pounded them to around 1/8 ". S + P with a tiny bit of Dijon.Flour,egg,bread crumbs,then fry.

                                                                  2. My wife and I went through this very question for Thanksgiving (though we have prepared duck several times previously). When we decided duck instead of turkey for Thanksgiving, her initial thought was to do a whole duck. But the reality of roasting a whole duck is that while the result looks beautiful, the breast is inevitably overcooked, nobody really wants to eat the legs or wings, and the carcass likely ends up in the trash (it's not like we were going to make duck stock). We regained our senses and cooked breasts. They came out perfect medium-rare, with nice crisp skin. I vote for breast only.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: LorenzoGA

                                                                      "nobody really wants to eat the legs or wings, and the carcass likely ends up in the trash (it's not like we were going to make duck stock)"

                                                                      heretic. apostate. I know it's to each their own, yet...
                                                                      but yes the wings are pointless (oddly as ducks use them)
                                                                      no stock or rendered fat or chunks for later and have some plastic containers and a freezer?

                                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                                        I am weeping softly to myself.

                                                                        When I go out to buy a Chinese Roast Duck, the first thing I eat are the wings. Then the legs, if I can fight off the kids. Then the thighs. Then we go for the breasts, but only because that's all that's left. Then we take home the bones and make stock. The next day we have duck soup with pork wonton.

                                                                        1. re: acgold7

                                                                          oh I'd certainly save the wings for the stock pot. I wonder why there's not much on them, is a chicken's wing meatier because they DON'T use them much?

                                                                    2. Thanks for all the advice and recommendations, the duck was fantastic! I had a family emergency the last week so had no time to really plan and could only use what was at the store when I shopped this afternoon so I went for the duck breast which was probably better since I certainly didn't have 5 hours before dinner time to try out the 5 hour roast duck. I scored the fat and started them in a cold pan and let the fat render for a good 20 minute or so. I think perhaps my temperature was too low, but the duck wasn't overcooked at all so I guess it worked out OK. The sliced duck in the picture had the most residual fat, the others were pretty much crispy skin with an even thinner layer of fat but don't get me wrong the little fat left was very tasty. I served it with mushrooms sauteed in the rendered fat. Thanks again. I certainly will be back to the store before the holidays to buy a few more to freeze.

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                        Stunning! When/if you have the chance, could you elaborate on just what you did please? That picture made me drool :)

                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                          Thanks, I can't believe it was so easy. I patted both sides of the breasts dry, sprinkled with salt and let them sit on a rack in the fridge for 2 hours or so, then let them rest on the counter for 45 minutes to get the chill off. Skin down in a cold cast iron pan, then turned the heat to low-medium and listened for a good sizzle. I set a timer for 5 minutes, by that time the fat was rendering pretty well so I spooned it off into a jar and increased the temperature to medium and let it render for probably 12 minutes more, spooned off the rest of the fat, increased the temperature slightly until it was completely brown and crispy, probably 4 more minutes. I checked the skin probably every 5 minutes or so and moved the breasts relative to the the heat depending on how much fat was left to be rendered. I also checked the breast temperature with a thermometer at 10 minutes and 15 minutes to make sure that it was still below 115-120F. When the skin was crispy and brown, I removed the breasts to a plate, cranked up the heat and seared literally 1 minute to 120F, then let them rest 10 minutes while I sauteed the mushrooms. I can't wait to make it again and I think a whole duck is in my future.

                                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                            Thank you SO much for that much detail. I think I can do this now :) One point to clarify. When you cranked up the heat at the end and seared, that was for the non-skin side, right?

                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                              Oh yes, sorry, I forgot that detail :) I flipped to the non-skin side for the final sear.

                                                                        2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                          I know I'm late to the party, but I'd like to add my thoughts. Roast duck is more like a roast, whereas the breast is served more like a steak. Both have their merits. I enjoy the whole duck very much, but it is cooked to a well done temperature. And, It offers a great by-product--duck fat!! Plus a little stock can be had. A solo breast should always be done rare to medium rare and is cooked fairly rapidly. You might like boning the duck and making confit of the leg and thigh for later use; and, using the breast for a different preparation.

                                                                          1. re: primebeefisgood

                                                                            Thanks, I definitely want to try it. I only seared 3 breasts tonight so was able to get a good 1/4 cup of fat but would love more of course! And, duck stock...the things you could do with that!

                                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                              "Oh the Places You'll Go, the Things that You'll See"

                                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                              My maneuver at that stage is put them in the toaster oven in the broiler setting for just a few minutes - it really crisps up the skin!

                                                                            2. My Seared Duck Breast With Fresh Figs and Black Currant Sauce.

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. Definitely the whole duck! Cheaper than individual breasts and much cheaper than the D'Artagnan etc premade confit which you will be able to make with the leftover leg(s) and fat!*
                                                                                I use Cook's technique of steaming the duck first (I dumped it in an asparagus steamer) for 25 min to render the fat. Then you roast it. This crisps the skin.
                                                                                I made it for Xmas with red wine and dried cherries soaked in Port. (with onions, garlic in the pan juices) Easy, fancy, delicious.
                                                                                I have tons of gravy; & leftover carcass, and nibbled bones for stock, lots of it.
                                                                                NEVER ever throw out any carcass. ie, i save veal bones for demi glace.
                                                                                * A whole duck at $20. or less yields 2 duck confit (priced at about $10 ea. in the stores) Plus the breasts and the giblets so it's overall better to buy the whole duck.