I love duck. Whenever I am in Chinatown I head to King’s Noodle for a big feed of barbecue duck. It is an amazing dish and it is perfect every time. The technique seems simple enough; it is barbecued, and chopped up with a heavy cleaver, bones and all, and scooped unceremoniously onto a plate. Order it with white rice and some dark green gai-lan, (Chinese broccoli also known as kai-lan) and you will be one happy camper. But deep down, you know that, simple though it seems, cooking a whole duck like this it is not easy, you suspect you could never pull this off at home.
I also like duck confit, the classic French confit de canard but it is truly a fussy labour of love involving curing the legs for a day and a half, then poaching them for hours in their own rendered fat, then leaving them to cool, submerged completely in fat… Aint nobody got time for that! Again, I leave this to the professionals.
So what’s the easiest-and possibly best- way for the home cook to have a go at duck?
Hello boneless duck breast! In Quebec Brome Lake Ducks has been raising ducks for a hundred years, so they know what they’re doing. The Peking ducks they raise are naturally fed and are known worldwide for their flavour. And as an added bonus, duck is surprisingly good for you, containing polyunsaturated fats and omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, iron, niacin and riboflavin. Even the fat is good for you, in moderation of course, as it contains 58% monounsaturated fats and 29% saturated fats. Anyway, when you cook it properly, most of the fat is rendered off, and you are left with delicious, medium rare meat with a crispy skin that puts bacon to shame.
Brome Lake packages their duck breast (Poitrine de canard désossée) individually, each breast weighing around 225 g, so one package is enough for two adults. And yes, it is really easy to cook, almost idiot proof. And fast too, since duck breast, unlike chicken and turkey, should be cooked medium rare to medium. Here’s how.
So now that you can cook duck breast like a pro, how do you serve it? Well, you could try marinating the meat with some olive oil, balsamic, rosemary and garlic like Martha does here. Oprah marinates hers in hoisin and serves it sliced over a salad of bitter greens and mangoes. Hank Shaw has just written a book on this delicious bird and has a slew of recipes and tips on his website, my favourite is his weiner schnitzel, made with duck! We usually only think of pork or chicken for schnitzel but just imagine it with delicious duck breast.
Or you might be inspired by King’s Noodle and keep it simple. Score the skin and marinate the breast with a little soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar and sesame oil, for four hours or overnight. Serve with your favourite rice; white, brown or red, and some quickly sauteed Chinese greens like gai-lan or bok choy tossed with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Slice the duck, breast, put the rice on the plate, put the gai-lan on the rice, and arrange the duck slices on top, drizzling with any juices from the pan.