When I was a kid, my favorite dish was Cantonese roast duck. And frankly, I still love this dish.
Every few weeks, my mom would buy a whole roasted duck from Chinatown for a family feast. The heady smell of roasted meat and five spice powder always drew me into the kitchen; there, I’d stealthily pick at the tender duck and crispy amber skin while it was still in its take-out container.
My mom always bought the entire duck—with head and neck still attached—because she wanted to utilize the whole animal. She wouldn’t carve it up until we got home; the meat would go on a platter while the carcass was used to make a flavorful master stock for the rest of the week’s meals.
Once, when I asked her why she never had the guy behind the counter at the Chinese market chop up the meat for her, she laughed. Anyone naive enough to do that would inevitably get stiffed a few pieces, she explained. The best pieces.
Right before dinner, my mom would reheat the duck in the oven to re-crisp the skin, and then place it on her gnarled wooden chopping block and hack it into bite-size pieces with her ginormous cleaver. This was my cue: I’d oh-so-casually sidle up next to her and make puppy eyes at her until she handed me a piece of glistening meat to scarf down before dinner.
My love of duck has persisted to this day. But although I’ve prepared it a number of different ways, I never attempted to cook a whole duck until just last week. The reasons? I didn’t have ready access to a top-notch source for whole ducks, and I wasn’t confident that I had a fool-proof recipe. After all, high quality ducks are expensive, and I didn’t want to screw it up.
But recently, two things changed. I’ve become a regular customer/convert of Good Eggs—a service that delivers fresh food from local farmers and artisans to customers’ doorsteps—and I was delighted to see that they’re selling whole ducks from Early Bird Ranch in Pescadero. And just a few weeks ago, I received an advance review copy of Hank Shaw’s latest cookbook, Duck, Duck, Goose.
The stars had aligned. It was time to roast my first whole duck.