Duck is one of those luxurious meals that seems so special that it must be too labor-intensive and fanciful to ever attempt at home, right?
To make a restaurant-caliber meal at home in your own kitchen, there are a few concepts to understand about preparing this rich and fantastic bird.
First, duck is entirely dark meat, which makes the meat intensely flavorful. While duck is usually considered a "fatty" bird, the meat itself is actually pretty lean, especially the breasts. The fatty layer of skin is what helps the ducks stay warm and buoyant in their habitat, but in culinary terms, it translates to some of the most delicious cooking fat in the universe.
It has a unique, almost sweetly nutty flavor not found elsewhere. It also means that this fat must be rendered (melted down) a bit before the heat of the pan can penetrate through to cook the meat. Always save any of the fat that has melted off for later use. (Here's a hint: Cooking diced potatoes in a skillet using the duck fat and some thinly sliced onions makes them crispy and unbelievably delicious.)
There are two main parts of the duck that we cook with: the legs and the breasts. While they are part of the same bird, they cook a bit differently. The breasts are, naturally, more tender and usually served rare to medium rare, while duck legs are a hint tougher, and usually thoroughly cooked all the way through.
Crispy duck skin is a hallmark of the dish, and since we are partially covering the duck legs to make them tender and juicy, simply pop them under the broiler for a few minutes to recrisp the skin before serving.
Because this dish is so rich in flavor, it's best served with some simple, lightly dressed greens.
Any leftover duck meat keeps really well, and is great sliced and served cold with a salad or on some toasted crusty bread as a sandwich.
Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer, chef instructor and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/yourpersonalchef.