© Denzil Green
Duck is a very fatty meat, especially farm-yard duck. It’s even fattier than goose. For that reason, many people just buy the breasts as they are the least fatty part.
While Wild Ducks have their fans, not everyone is crazy about them. Ducks, whether domesticated or wild, will taste of what they are eating, and you haven’t much control over what Wild Ducks eat. Not many people like Wild Duck living near seasides, for instance, because their flesh smells very fishy even when cooked. Some of the first commercial duck breeders in America used to feed their domesticated ducks fish, until they found that consumers hated the taste.
Ducks have dark breasts, unlike chickens, because dark muscles in a bird store energy for long, sustained movement. Ducks fly, chickens only flutter for a few seconds.
If a recipe calls for duck, assume it means a domesticated one rather than a wild one.
A large wild mallard duck will weigh about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg.) In North America, domesticated farm-raised ducks are sold as duckling if they weigh up to 4 pounds (1 3/4 kg); sold as duck, they will weigh about 5 1/2 pounds (2 1/2 kg.)
Domesticated ducks are descended from wild mallard ducks (called “Anas boschas”.) These ducks, grouped together as “Common Ducks”, can interbreed, because they had the same ancestor.
Breeds of “Common Ducks” include:
- Indian Runner
- Pekin (sic — not Peking, that is the dish)
In French cooking, Nantes and Rouen ducks are considered by some to be the best ducks to cook with.
Muscovy Ducks are a different family of ducks altogether. While they can breed with Common Ducks, it will only produce offspring that are infertile.
In the cooking world, duck is referred to as duck, whether male or female. In the duck breeder’s world, the word “duck” is reserved for the females; the males are called “drakes.”
Generally, female ducks are plumper and tastier than male ducks. The more flexible the under-bill and pinions of a duck, the younger it is and the more tender its flesh will be, in general.
Weight-wise compared to chicken, there will be less meat on a duck because more of it is fat that will render off.
Allow 1 1/4 pounds / 600g per person. 1 duck will serve 3 quite well, or 2 very generously.
Ducks have two small grease glands under their hind end (the glands help keep their feathers waterproof) that must be removed or they will give the duck a bad, bitter taste. Make sure your butcher has already trimmed this off.
Allow 15 minutes of cooking time per pound / 450g. For the first 20 minutes, cook at 450 F (230 C). After that, lower the temperature to 350 F (180 C) for the remainder of the cooking time.
Duck should be scored with a knife to help the fat to run off while cooking, and cooked at a higher temperature for longer than you would other poultry. You will generally want to cook it on a bit of a rack, so that the fat can run off without the meat soaking it right back up. The quantity of fat that will run off will amaze you if you are cooking duck for the first time — make sure you use a pan with a high enough edge to accommodate all the fat.
Cook any stuffing separately, or it just soaks up too much fat, even for fat lovers.
Some say Wild Duck is best jointed and braised, rather than roasted; others say not to bother trying to use anything but the breasts as the main meal. They’ll use the rest of the carcass as stock, and remove meat from the legs to be used in risottos or pâtés.
If you do want to cook a Wild Duck, you can’t cook it as you would a chicken or turkey or even a domesticated duck, or it will go dry and stringy. The reason is that Wild Ducks have all their fat concentrated in a layer of fat just under the skin to keep them warm. The rest of their flesh is fairly lean and will dry out if you remove the skin and the fat. When cooking Wild Duck, don’t score the skin or poke it with a fork while cooking: let all the fat stay in to baste the dry meat below it.
Duck can carry salmonella, just as chicken can. See Safe Cooking Temperatures for guidelines on temperatures to ensure that any possible salmonella bacteria is killed during cooking.
In French cooking, Duck is referred to as “caneton” (“duckling”) rather than “canard”, the actual word for Duck. In French, breeders refer to a male duck as a “canard”; a female is a “cane.”