Getting your duck dishes in order (+recipes)

By Grant Allen

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Boiled baby beets and crispy lettuce are a perfect match for duck confit. Photo / Doug Sherring
Boiled baby beets and crispy lettuce are a perfect match for duck confit. Photo / Doug Sherring

A few weeks ago I jokingly deemed this season the winter of duck content. I love duck in any shape or form and have been happily devouring quite a bit of it over the last month. Farmed ducks are now far more available at butchers and supermarkets than they ever used to be, and while not a cheap eat, duck compares well on price to other prime cuts.

The duck-shooting season is about to close. You may have been lucky enough to be given some by your hunting friends (or shot one yourself) and stored the meat in the freezer. I think wild duck is better used in slow cooked dishes. These ducks have been hard at work and their flesh will be much firmer than a farmed bird. Marinating, braising and casseroling all help to tenderise the meat (check for leftover shot in the meat before cooking).

If you want to roast a wild bird you will need to "lard" the duck by wrapping it in fatty bacon, and baste it frequently while cooking.

Farmed duck will have a generous layer of fat beneath the skin.You need to melt some of this away. Sit the duck on a rack in a baking dish and start with a high heat. Once the fat has dripped down, carefully pour it off and continue to roast at a lower temperature. Do not throw this fat away - it will cook the best roast potatoes in the world.

Adding to my duck excitement was the arrival of some cans of duck confit to try.

Duck confit - Confit de canard

Duck confit is begun by salting the joints of the duck. The salt is washed off the next day and the duck dried. After cooking in its own fat, the duck joints are packed into a container or can, the fat poured over the duck, the container sealed and the confit stored in a cool, dark place to use later. The duck fat seals the meat and preserves it by preventing any air contacting the cooked meat.

1 Take the duck joints from the fat and pop them in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes to reheat.

2 Peel some roasting potatoes and cut them into chunky slices. Put them in a roasting dish and smother them with the duck fat from which you have removed the legs.

3 Cook until potatoes are done. Drain off the fat and crisp up on some paper towels in the oven .

4 Once the duck is reheated, turn on the grill and crisp up the skin .

To serve

Remember the duck has been salted and the duck fat is rich so we need some fresh, sweet and slightly sharp flavours to contrast. Do not salt the potatoes.

Offer some boiled baby beets, some crispy lettuce or some wilted savoy cabbage, and be liberal with the cracked pepper.

* You can buy cans of duck confit from Home Gourmet at most branches of New World and Pack'nSave supermarkets in the North Island, RRP $19.99 for a two-leg can and $29.99 for four legs.

Here are other duck recipes to try:

* Duck curry

* Chinese duck pancakes

* Duck in wonton baskets

* Duck with cherries

- Herald on Sunday

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