A duck dinner

Duck, bell peppers & cauliflower gratin 

A few months ago we were given a gift: a whole duck breast, wrapped and frozen. One of the goals written on my “things to cook in 2007” list is “More Duck!” so I’ve been wanting to try it for awhile – I love duck in restaurants but have only once tried cooking it.

 Things did not go swimmingly. When J. got home he took the duck out of the meat drawer where it had been defrosting, to find that the bag it was in was not leak-proof and there was raw duck juice all over the place. He was cleaning up the mess when I got home. I took the duck out of its packaging and poked at it a bit – it still had a chunk of rib cage attached. Every recipe for duck breast that I have is for boneless. Sigh. I tried to debone it, but I am utterly hopeless – a previous attempt to cut up a whole chicken resulted in tears and recriminations against various cookbook authors who said it would be easy. So J. deboned the duck, showing a level of patience and persistence which is obviously beyond me. In the meantime, I cut up a huge cauliflower from Blue Heron Farm and a few bell peppers from Hedlin Farms that we haven’t been getting around to. The cauliflower spent a few minutes in a pan of boiling water, then I drained it and piled it in a gratin pan with some salt, pepper, cream and bread crumbs. The peppers I mixed with salt and olive oil and dumped into a roasting pan. These both went into a 400° oven to do their thing.

The duck, I noticed, didn’t smell very good raw. It reminded me of the time one of J’s coworkers gave us a package of year-old venison from his freezer and when we finally tried using it it stunk up the kitchen so bad we threw it away, like the cowards we are. But this time we decided it was just the combination of gamey meat and freezer burn and By God We Are Going to Cook This Duck so I salted the breasts and threw them in the big cast iron pan. The skin crisped up in a few minutes and I stuck the pan into the oven with the gratin and the peppers. We opened a bottle of Four Vines “The Biker” Zinfandel to fortify ourselves against potential failure – and boy, it cheered us right up! Good stuff, that. We also decided that if the duck was toxic we could nuke some slices of meatloaf from the freezer – it’s always good to have a backup plan.

The peppers got soft and a little caramelized, the cauliflower got crispy on top, and the duck hit around 155° and I called it done. We sliced up the duck and took the fat off, and J made me take the first bite. I didn’t die, and it was good! Hurray! Only slightly traumatized by the whole undertaking, we ate.

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4 thoughts on “A duck dinner

  1. i love duck, and they are rather easy to cook. if you want to cook more duck, get a whole duck, throw out whatever bag comes out of the cavity. rub the cavity with salt, put a lemon in it, and bake it in a 350 oven for about 2 hours. done. the duck is fatty enough you don’t have to baste it or oil it or rub it with anything. and the duck fat is actually healthier for you than other animal fat and tastes wonderful. take the duck fat from your roast duck and saute greens in it (spinach, kale, whatever you like) and they are wonderful.

  2. Chris and Chessloser, thanks for commenting! I do adore duck fat, especially on roasted potatoes. We’ll have to experiment further. I did roast a whole duck once and completely coated the inside of the oven with fat – does cooking at 350 help prevent that? I roast my chickens at very high heat (400-450) and they spatter quite a bit, but not as much as duck.

  3. Chris and Chessloser, thanks for commenting! I do adore duck fat, especially on roasted potatoes. We’ll have to experiment further. I did roast a whole duck once and completely coated the inside of the oven with fat – does cooking at 350 help prevent that? I roast my chickens at very high heat (400-450) and they spatter quite a bit, but not as much as duck.

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