New year means new dishes – and more duck

With all those freshly minted resolutions hanging heavy over your head today, you probably need to get realistic and narrow down your broad, general statements. For instance, “try new things” is a whopper. But breaking it down into tiny bites will make 2013 easier to swallow.

I didn’t wait until the new year to try something new. I roasted a duck for Christmas dinner. My first duck. When I told my friends, they all looked alarmed. Concerns about the fat layer, roasting time and technique were bandied about. But I had already purchased the bird, which was defrosting in the refrigerator. So, onward.

I flipped through half a dozen cookbooks with instructions on cooking duck. Bad idea. Some said you just couldn’t cook a whole bird successfully and needed to break it down into pieces. Roasting times and temperatures varied widely. Prep techniques varied even more. For the first time in a long while, I was actually nervous about cooking something. So, I cobbled together my own technique with a pinch of this from one book, and a dash of that from online sources and some common sense. I mean, why would you brine a bird that is all fat-rich, dark meat?

My cobbled-together process worked. And it worked well.

First, I had to borrow a roasting pan and rack from a friend. I really have absolutely no place to store a big pan – at least until I clean out the attic – oh, and get the attic steps repaired. Maybe that’s a resolution I need to make.

But back to the duck. The first thing I noticed was that the bird was kind of flacid. When I removed it from its wrapper it did a kind of belly flop on the counter. (Do I keep cooking twine around the house? Maybe in the inaccessible attic…)

I used a sharp knife to cut about 20 slits in the skin, so the subcutaneous fat could drizzle out during the cooking time. Since it was only a five-pound bird, it would only have to roast for an hour and that didn’t seem like enough time to render off the fatty layer. So, I filled the bottom of the roasting pan with water, placed the duck, breast-side down, on the rack, covered the whole thing with foil and steamed the bird on two burners on the stove for 45 minutes. Fat oozed out in buckets and the bird firmed up enough so I didn’t have to truss it.

I dried the duck thoroughly and stuffed the cavity with oranges and fresh thyme, salted and peppered the skin and shoved the bird in a 400-degree oven. An hour later, I pulled out a perfectly cooked, moist bird with golden brown skin. Happiness ensued, because we actually pulled the skin off  and ate it right there. Don’t get all judgmental – the bird was going to cool in the refrigerator while we went to the movies and the skin would have lost its brilliant crispiness.

In light of this success, I added a few more “try new things” to my cooking resolution list:

Making my own frascatelli pasta

Boston brown bread in a coffee tin

That long-promised King Cake

Curried cauliflower

Salmon rillettes

Homemade ricotta

You’ll hear how it goes – good, bad, or ugly. Until then, I’ve got some duck fat saved in the freezer. Hmmmm.

 

 

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