The composition of our Christmas menu is a running debate in my family. To me turkey seems like just a repeat of Thanksgiving and cooking the big bird is no longer really a challenge. I would like to try cooking goose or duck but have been over-ruled on the grounds that these fowl are apparently too greasy. While I work on changing opinions for next year I am making some smaller projects for this year.
Duck breast prosciutto is widely recommended as a first dry-curing charcuterie project. Even more than chickens, duck breasts are sold at a premium compared to whole birds–if they can be found at all. Instead I picked up a couple of whole, frozen ducks and the breasts are on their way to becoming ersatz prosciutto but that is going to be a separate post. I’m using the recipe from Earth to Table to preserve the leg meat and excess fat as duck confit but that is also going to be a separate post. Today I’m going to turn the order around a bit and write about the leftovers and ancillary benefits first.
Ducks are most often found frozen in grocery stores and King Cole produces most of these. King Cole is local but a large-scale producer so I assume that like Tyson Foods in Arkasas locavores would probably encourage looking elsewhere. I’m not sure I buy this argument in its entirety, don’t really have enough firsthand information about King Cole to judge, and their ducks are what I found so it’s what I used. According to chowhound readers King Cole ducks are White Pekin and here is a chowhound thread that compares the readily-available duck breeds in Toronto.
The process for quartering ducks is similar to chickens. The breast halves are separated from the carcass by following closely on either side of the breastbone, down the wishbone (they seemed less prominent than in chickens), and then scraping the meat away from the ribcage. I think I did a relatively good job of leaving only a little meat behind on the carcass. The ducks were still slightly frozen but by the second duck I managed to get both breasts off with the silver skin still attached.
The first difference that takes getting used to is the visible layer of fat attached to a duck breast. For prosciutto I was operating under the idea that the two objectives were to get all of the lean meat separated from the bone and to preserve an even layer of fat all around the meat.
For the confitted (I hope that’s a word) legs all of the fatty scraps go in the pot anyway so leaving the skin and fat attached to the leg quarters (and not the carcass) saves time and effort for the second pass. Obviously this contrasts to the usual “trim excess fat” policy that applies for barbeque-bound chicken. I was amazed at how much fat ducks manage to hide in strange places including a big chunk that gets tucked into the cavity with the giblets.
In addition to the two main events (four breasts for prosciutto and a pint Mason jar of duck confit) I also froze two duck carcasses that can be used later to make duck stock. Speaking of stock the confit recipe that I used called for cooking the legs in chicken broth and apple cider so once the duck pieces were removed and the liquid fat was poured off I was left with four cups of concentrated duck stock. The livers I sauteed and ate on toast with a healthy slathering of grainy mustard as a restorative lunch–breaking down ducks is hard work.
Check back for separate posts about the duck breast prosciutto and duck leg confit projects.