Rich and robust in flavor, duck is an elegant departure from your everyday chicken or turkey. It can be prepared in many styles and manners, including roasting, braising, broiling and grilling.
Duck meat is all dark and slightly gamy in taste. It is wonderfully complemented by herbs such as marjoram, rosemary and thyme, as well as fruits such as oranges, green apples and pineapples. Ideally, cooked duck has little or no fat left in it, and the skin is thin and crispy.
There are three major duckling breeds available in the United States:
Comprising almost 95% of national consumption, White Pekin is raised to seven weeks for mild flavor and optimal leanness and tenderness.
This breed is raised to 11 weeks, allowing the breast to fully mature. It is most often selected for its breast meat and liver, which is used to make foie gras.
This cross between a male Muscovy and female White Pekin is most often used to make foie gras.
Duck lovers enjoy several other types, including the Aylesbury and the Long Island (known for its full breast and dark, succulent flesh). The most common and best of the wild ducks is the Mallard. Somewhat tougher and gamy in taste, they are now being farm-raised by some producers.
Since most ducks are sold when quite young and tender, the terms "duck" and "duckling" are used interchangeably. Whole ducklings, including the giblets and neck, are sold as:
Broilers and Fryers—Less than eight weeks old; 3 to 6½ lbs.
Roasters—No more than 16 weeks old; 4 to 7½ lbs.
Other retail cuts include:
• Bone-in parts such as legs, breasts and breast quarters.
• Boneless breasts, either skin-on or skinless.
• Giblets (liver, heart and gizzard).
• Tongues and feet (a delicacy mostly exported to Hong Kong).
• Processed products including smoked breasts, sausages and hot dogs.
Fresh duck is available from late spring through early winter, but generally only in regions where ducks are raised. About 90% of the ducks that reach the market are frozen, and these are available year-round.
When buying fresh, choose one with a broad, plump breast. The skin should be elastic, not saggy. For frozen birds, make sure the packaging is tight and unbroken.
Fresh: Loosely cover and refrigerate for up to two or three days. Remove the giblets from the cavity and store separately.
Frozen: Defrost in the refrigerator. This will take 24 to 36 hours depending on bird size.
• Farm-raised ducks are fattier than wild.
View BigOven's duck recipes