Friday, 12 December 2008 | Tags:

Duck is a savoury change from regular chicken dishes. It can be tedious and timely to cook, but the end result is a flavoursome reward. Picking the right duck can make all the difference to your meal, so here are some tips to help you choose.

The Basics

  • There are two popular types of duck to use in cooking:

    • Pekin, more commonly used in North America for Asian-inspired cooking. Because they’re raised on poultry feed, the meat tends to be plump and fatty.

    • Heritage duck is used by French chefs (some even fly them in directly from France!) They’re fed veggies and sunflower seeds, which creates a richer, more succlent flavour and less fatty meat. They’re also usually free range and have a yellowy colour rather than pinky-white like Pekin. Unfortunately, Heritage duck can cost almost twice as much as Pekin. (But for French recipes, we think it’s worth it!)

  • Duck is typically sold frozen at grocery and meat markets. You may also find organic duck at specialty meat shops or butchers. Be sure to call ahead to see if they have it in stock. If not, they can usually order it in for you.

  • Duck can safely be frozen up to three months, so always check the date on the package. If it has been frozen longer than three months, move onto another option.

  • To thaw, keep the duck in its original packaging and thaw in the coldest part of your refrigerator. It will take a day or so to completely thaw. If giblets are included, be sure to remove, wrap, and thaw them separately.

  • When cooking duck, plan for 1 to 1½ pounds per person.

  • Since ducks are water birds, they have a layer of fat beneath the skin to keep them buoyant. Unlike beef, this fat isn’t marbled; it’s a layer covering the muscles that can easily be removed for more leanness. In fact, removing this layer of fat and the skin once cooked makes duck meat as lean as other poultry.

  • Though darker than chicken or turkey, duck meat is still considered another white meat.

  • Duck meat is simply darker because unlike other poultry, ducks can fly, sending oxygen into the muscles and deepening the colour.

  • Leftover duck can be stored in the refrigerator up to three days, after which it will safely keep in the freezer up to three months.

Duck Bacon

  • The leanness and high protein content of skinless duck meat makes it an excellent, half-the-fat alternative to pork bacon.

  • Like other poultry-based bacons, duck bacon is made from duck meat that has either been ground and processed, or simply cut thinly into strips.

  • Duck bacon is often smoked and cured, but look for one that is free of nitrates and nitrites, and low added salt.

    • Since both these ingredients are used as a preservative, buying duck bacon that is nitrate and nitrite-free means that you must consume it before the best before date.

    • You can also freeze duck bacon, but if it is free of preservatives, date the package and keep it no more than 3 months before thawing and preparing it.

  • While a rare commodity, duck bacon may also be known as “duck prosciutto” at specialty meat markets. You can also ask your butcher about preparing some for you.

Other Considerations

  • If you’re new to cooking duck, start with a simple recipe. We used a quite complicated recipe (Pate de Canard En Croute (stuffed duck baked in pastry) from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and because we didn’t do the recipe justice, we couldn’t conduct a proper taste test.

  • Many recipes require you to de-bone the duck, which is rather tricky. Consider investing in a de-boning knife that is thin and flexible so you can get between the bones and separate the meat cleanly.
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