For some, they’re the bonus holiday gifts, for others, as troublesome as mounds of discarded wrapping paper and ribbon: leftovers.
I’ve spent time in both camps, but when a holiday feast precedes a week of plodding through pre-prepared meals, I’m less likely to view leftovers fondly. The Christmas ham alone can comprise dozens of sandwiches, fillings for omelets, toppings for baked potatoes and more before ending its run in the soup pot.
So if Mom hadn’t left my house this weekend minus a ham, her plan to roast a duck would have been ideal for a family of four fighting the seasonal invasion of leftovers. Most often, ducks are found in the freezer section of major grocery stores and weigh in between four and five pounds. Small and satisfying, ducks also yield some tasty byproducts — high-quality stock and fat — if no sandwich slices.
It’s that thick layer of fat that keeps ducks fabulously moist and juicy, making them just about foolproof for the cook who mistrusts internal temperature readings or must multitask through several dishes. The flavorful fat that collects in the roasting pan can be used to oven-fry potatoes or strained and reserved for other uses.
Perhaps because ducks produce so much fat, the recipe my mom and I used recommended blanching the bird before roasting by putting it in a pot and pouring boiling water over it. A thin layer of fat was left floating on the water, and the blanching process allowed us to pull out the remains of a few pin feathers.
After that initial step, the duck couldn’t have been easier to prepare. We placed it breast-side down to roast at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes and then turned it over to roast for another 20 minutes or so. Although the recipe below calls for stuffing the duck and browning on the stove before roasting, both procedures could be omitted and the roasting time increased. A duck’s aerodynamic shape with squatty limbs makes for easy transferring between dishes, and there’s no trussing or tucking or manhandling required, unlike the gymnastic routines cooks can expect with chickens and turkeys.
Flavorwise, ducks are a welcome change of pace from other poultry, their rich flavor lending itself particularly well to fruit. We whipped up a cherry sauce spiked with a little kirsch for ours despite the fact that the duck came packaged with the base for classic duck a l’orange. The accompanying recipe is a more exotic and sophisticated take.
Expect one duck to adequately feed four people. Once you’ve removed the breast and legs, you’ll be hard-pressed to get much more meat off the duck. Instead of keeping ours around for days and excising little bits, I threw the carcass in a pot for stock as soon as lunch was over.
Roasted Duck With Kumquat Sauce
1 (4 1/2 pound) duck, washed and dried
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 cups orange juice
1 tablespoon butter
10 kumquats, each sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the duck: Poke skin all over duck with a fork. Season duck all over with the salt and pepper, rubbing seasoning over skin.
In a small bowl, stir together the celery, onion, cinnamon sticks, star anise and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Stuff mixture into cavity of duck and tie legs together with tail to prevent stuffing from falling out.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Brown duck, turning every few minutes to color each side evenly and well, about 20 minutes total.
Place duck and any juices in a baking pan and roast, basting every 15 minutes, until juices run clear when you prick a thigh, about 2 hours.
Remove duck and set aside to rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
While duck is resting, make kumquat sauce. Place the honey in a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Bring honey to a boil and cook just until it begins to darken and caramelize. Immediately remove pan from heat and add the vinegar and orange juice, stirring to combine. Cook over medium heat until liquid is reduced by three-fourths, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the butter and kumquat slices and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to allow flavors to marry. Remove from heat and serve with duck.
— Recipe adapted by the Los Angeles Times from Craig Strong, chef de cuisine at the Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa.