In the world of ducks, there are divers and puddlers. Divers often eat more animal matter, such as fish and aquatic invertebrates, and can have an oily and off-putting taste; puddlers tend to have a more vegetarian diet and therefore a more pleasing flavor.
Because of its simplicity-there’s nothing here to mask any off tastes-I prefer using puddlers for this special roasted duck recipe. My favorites include mallard, teal, canvasback, and pintail ducks. The butchering method is something that I discovered during my grad school years, when I lived near a flyway that usually swarmed with migrating mallards in November and December. It’s a very efficient way to remove all the meat from a duck and still have an easy-to-handle product. It gives you a boneless breast that you can slice thin, as well as a bone-in leg that you can eat like a drumstick. And since the halves are nice and flat, it’s easy to brown and crisp them in a skillet without a lot of flipping and pressing.
One difference between wild ducks that you hunt and domestic farm-raised ducks is that even after you pluck the wild ducks, you might have to burn off some feathers when you start cooking. So I’ve put this step in the recipe. After I sear the duck for the first time and the skin shrinks back, if there are any remaining feathers left on the duck they’ll appear as little sticklike things poking out of the skin. Then I just take a flame to the skin (a lighter or a kitchen torch, or I just use the burner itself) to get rid of them. Then I proceed with the cooking.
- 2 ducks, gutted and plucked, each duck cut into two halves of a boneless breast attached to a whole leg (4 pieces total)
- Vegetable or canola oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Apple Chutney (below, or substitute store-bought)
- 2 lbs. Granny Smith apples (about 4 apples)
- 1 tbsp. mustard seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 onion, peeled and diced small
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
- 2 tbsp. turmeric
- 1 serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- Lemon juice
- 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 2 tbsp. honey
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375° .
- Lightly oil a heavy cast-iron pan (I brush mine with oil and remove the excess with a paper towel).
- Heat the pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat until very hot.
- Season the duck on both sides with salt and pepper.
- Sear the duck halves skin side down, pressing it down so that the duck skin has maximum contact with the hot pan. You want to get the skin crisp and golden; a large duck takes close to 10 minutes.
- Using tongs, lift up the duck halves and check to see if there are any feathers poking up from the skin.
- If so, burn them off with a lighter, a kitchen torch, or the stove burner.
- Flip the duck halves so the skin side is up.
- Set the pan in the oven and roast 5-8 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 135°-140° for medium-rare.
- The juices should be pink and oily but not bloody, and the breast meat should look pink.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes. Separate the leg from the breast meat and slice the breast thinly.
- Serve with Apple Chutney.
Apple Chutney I like the idea of making my own apple chutney in the fall when there are so many apples and so many ducks. But you could easily use your favorite store-bought chutney instead and save the apples for a pie.
- Peel and core the apples, and cut into 1/3-inch cubes.
- Toss with enough lemon juice to coat the apple pieces and prevent them from browning.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the oil, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds.
- Cook until the seeds start to toast and pop. Add onion and cook until caramelized, about 6 minutes.
- Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, and serrano pepper and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant.
- Add the brown sugar and stir until it begins to dissolve, about 2 minutes.
- Add the vinegar and bring to a simmer.
- Cook for about 10 minutes to combine the flavors.
- Add the diced apples, raisins, and cranberries.
- Cook for about 15 minutes until the apples are softened.
- Add honey and cook over low heat until thickened.
- Adjust seasoning with salt, honey, or additional lemon juice, as needed.