Before culinary school, I had no idea what to do with a duck if asked to cook and serve it. Seriously. I had no clue. No one in my family raises or hunts duck, so I had never seen anyone prepare duck, nor had I ever tasted it. I always guessed it probably was cooked like a chicken and maybe tasted like it, too.
I was wrong. Duck, in my opinion, tastes BETTER than chicken and duck has a slightly different set of rules when it comes to preparation. While duck is poultry, there is no white meat on a duck like chicken or turkey. Duck is more like a red meat and I would compare the flavor and texture of a duck breast more to a lean steak than chicken.
So here is the dilemma for a chef. Should duck follow the same technical rules as we use for other poultry, such as chicken or turkey, and be cooked to an internal temperature of 165? Or should duck, and the duck breasts in particular, be cooked to lower temperatures and served like a tender steak?
According to everything I learned about poultry, proper internal temperatures of any bird is 165 degrees F to assure the destruction of salmonella bacteria, if present. In fact, the USDA’s official word on duck and all poultry is the following:
“USDA recommends cooking whole duck or goose to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured using a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. When cooking pieces, the breast, drumsticks, thighs, and wings should be cooked until they reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. For approximate cooking times for use in meal planning, see the following chart compiled from various resources and use a food thermometer.” Check out the USDA website to see recommended cooking times and cooking methods for duck.
However, other chefs I have talked to feel that 165 degree F internal temperature is “overcooked” for duck breast and that the texture of duck breast cooked to recommended temperatures is not as delicate as duck breast cooked to even a slightly lower temperature. In fact, according to the duck experts at Maple Leaf Farms, as directed by the chef in the Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast Cooking Video, an internal temperature of 155 degrees F is an appropriate time to pull the breast from the heat. With carry-over cooking, the breast should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F shortly after removing from heat. When sliced, the breast meat should appear to be a light pink in the middle, which is acceptable for duck but certainly not chicken.
Duck legs, however, are better when cooked to the recommended higher temperatures. The texture of the meat is different on the legs than the breasts. I like duck leg meat to almost fall of the bone, so I leave the legs in the oven to cook until they reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees F. For this recipe, I pulled the meat from the bone before serving, so a crispy skin on the leg was not important. If I serve the legs whole with the skin on, I usually remove the legs from the pan of duck fat when the internal temperature of the meat reaches about 165 degrees F. I then place the legs on a clean sheet pan and put the duck back in the oven, turning the heat up on the oven to 400 degrees F. I usually cook the legs another 10 minutes or so, until the skin is a browned and crispy.
It should also be mentioned that the Orange Brandy Sauce can be made without flaming the pan as shown in the video. Whether the alcohol is caught on fire or left to simmer and reduce in the pan, the brandy’s function is simply to deglaze the pan. After pouring off and saving the duck fat rendered from the breasts, I do my best to retrieve the “fond” or “duck flavor” remaining on the bottom of the pan. The alcohol helps to pull that flavor up off the bottom of the pan, which can then be turned into a wonderful pan sauce. If Brandy is not available or if one chooses to skip the addition of alcohol altogether, use a little of the chicken stock to deglaze the pan.
Last, please note the following: To make duck successfully, one does not have to dance with the carcass like I do in the video. Last time I checked, the USDA has no recommended dancing times for the safe handling of a duck… With the accompanying music, however, I could not resist.
duck leg confit with pan-seared duck breast over vegetable fried rice, orange supreme and orange burgundy sauce
- Whole duck - 2 whole, 5 pounds each
- Duck Leg Confit Ingredients
- Duck Legs - 4 each
- Ground Black Pepper - to taste
- Kosher Salt - to taste
- Poultry Seasoning - 2 teaspoons
- Ground Cloves - 1 teaspoon
- Duck Fat - 2 cups
- Pan-Seared Duck Breast Ingredients
- Duck Breasts - 4 each, fat scored in cross hatch pattern
- Ground Black Pepper - to taste
- Kosher Salt - to taste
- Orange Brandy Pan Sauce
- Brandy - 3 ounces
- Shallot - 1 each, minced
- Granulated Sugar - 4 Tablespoons
- Sherry Vinegar - 2 Tablespoons
- Orange Juice - 1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces)
- Chicken Stock - 1 1/2 cup (12 fluid ounces)
- Corn Starch Slurry - 1 Tablespoon corn starch dissolved in 1/2 cup water
- Vegetable Fried Rice
- Onion - 1 each, minced
- Carrots - 1 cup, small dice
- White rice, cooked - 3 cups
- Soy Sauce - 2 Tablespoons
- Egg - 1 each, lightly beaten
- Peas - 1 cup
Fabricate the duck by removing the breasts, tenderloins and legs. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Duck Legs Confit
Season duck legs with herbs. Place seasoned legs in a small baking pan and cover duck legs with about 2 cups of duck fat. Cover legs and and fat with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil after 45 minutes and cook legs, uncovered, for an additional 10 minutes.
Pan Seared Duck Breasts
Cut cross-hatch marks into the fat on the duck breasts, being careful to not slice the meat. Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper and place in a hot pan, skin side down, turning the heat to low after adding breasts to the pan. As the breasts cook and the fat is heated, fat will render in the pan. Whenever needed, pour off rendered duck fat through a cheesecloth and into a sealable storage container for later use. After about 10 minutes, check the to see if skin on the breast has turned brown and appears thin and crispy. If it looks good, flip breast over to the side with no skin and allow to cook an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Remove breast from heat when breast internal temperatures reach 155 to 160 degrees F. Allow meat to rest before cutting.
Orange Brandy Sauce
Pour out, strain and save as much of the duck fat left in the pan after the duck breasts have finished cooking. Use this pan to make the pan sauce.
Add 2 shots, or 3 ounces, of brandy to the pan. Turn the burner on high, stir the brandy while scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the "fond" left in the pan by the breasts. Once the fond has been scraped off the bottom of the pan, the brandy can then be flamed or simply boiled and reduced. Add the shallot, sugar and vinegar to the hot pan and stir. Add the orange juice and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes to reduce. Increase heat, add corn starch slurry and stir until sauce thickens. Reduce heat and reserve sauce for service.
Vegetable Fried Rice Instructions
To make fried rice, cook white rice in advance, spread it out on a cookie sheet and then place in the refrigerator for an hour or so to cool. When ready for service, heat about 2 Tablespoons of oil in a hot wok. Add onion and carrots to hot oil and stir fry for about one minute. Add rice and soy sauce to wok and stir. Add a lightly beaten egg to the rice and stir until the egg appears cooked. Add peas last, stir for a minute or two, and then serve.