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.
You know that Hank Shaw’s the man, right? He’s a hunter, angler, cook, James Beard Award-winning food blogger, and cookbook writer extraordinaire. I eagerly devoured his first cookbook, Hunt, Gather, Cook when it was first published—and now, I’m tearing through Duck, Duck, Goose,the definitive guide to cooking duck and geese. Although the recipes in the book aren’t necessarily Paleo, they can be easily modified to be compliant. Every time I flip through the pages of Hank’s book, I find another recipe that I want to make, chief among them Peking Duck(!), Confit of Duck, Grilled Duck Hearts with Chimichurri, and Braised Duck with Red Cabbage and Juniper. Every recipe includes difficulty ratings and the book is packed with gorgeous photos. And given Hank’s experience and track record, I’m confident all the recipes are wonderful.
But last week, I had just one (pricey) duck in my fridge. After perusing the cookbook, I decided to start with the basics and slow-roast the duck using Hank’s super simple recipe. Ready to check it out?
Here’s what to gather to feed 4 people:
- 1 domesticated duck
- 1 lemon, halved
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4 sprigs of your favorite herb (I used flat-leaf parsley, but Hank also suggests sage, rosemary, thyme, or a mixture)
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and trim away the extra fat with a pair of kitchen shears. Save the neck and innards (except for the liver) to make bone broth (either in a pressure cooker or slow cooker).
Poke the skin all over with a sharp needle or knife tip, being careful not to pierce the flesh.
Yes, I happen to have some clean hypodermic needles hanging around. I’m a drug dealer in real life, remember?
(I also have this medieval torture device that I use for poking pin-pricks in meat.)
Rub the duck all over with the cut side of the lemon, squeezing the juice on the skin as you coat the skin.
Toss the lemon halves into the cavity of the duck.
Sprinkle salt all over the duck, massaging it into the skin.
Fill the cavity with your herbs of choice.
Put the duck breast-side up in a large seasoned cast iron skillet…
…and roast it in the oven for 45 minutes. (If you have a lot of fat accumulating in the pan during the cooking process, pour it into a sealable jar for future cooking!)
Remove the duck from the oven and increase the heat to 500°F.
Once the oven is blazingly hot, roast the duck until the skin turns golden-brown and crisp (around 15 minutes).
When the duck is ready, take it out of the oven and rest it for 10 minutes before you carve it up.
For nostalgia’s sake, I served the duck with stir-fried greens and shiitake mushrooms.
Want to cook some duck? Snap up your own copy of Duck, Duck, Goose!