So what is it about duck that makes everyone crazy lovers of this bird? It’s not just in Europe either, in Asia too, especially the Chinese who really like their poultry and turn it into delicious dishes including the less popular parts of hearts and feet. The Chinese were the first to domesticate it too and fantastic Peking duck is synonymous with them though the recipe was created in another part of the country. I also recall a Moroccan kitchen porter in my London days who would sneak into Hyde park one night a week and snatch a duck for his family thinking they were a free for all. He joked it tasted much better than the hotel duck we were serving.
The French like it too of course and it was here I really saw how revered it is as a foodie delicacy. No one else could have invented the duck press contraption where an elaborate ceremony will be performed from a whole duck right at your table and each dish officially made has amazingly been numbered from the first one in 1890 at the famed centuries old Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris.
France also elevated the buttery duck liver to the status that foie gras enjoys today as a gourmet treat. Confit of duck too is now made the world over when it was just a simple way the rural French had of cooking and preserving the legs in its own fat so that there would be some decent meat to eat during the lean winter months. Like many countries they like a good duck soup as well.
The legs always need separate cooking as the breasts are best eaten medium or pink for maximum flavour so cooking duck whole is really not practical when the duck legs will be tough from all the running around if they have been reared properly free range. It’s even better if you do cook the fillets on the bone for just a little bit then whip them off while still pink. Like both liver and lamb, duck fillets do not work as either rare or well done. Wild duck or mallard is even better again, absolutely bursting with flavour from its natural diet. I once cooked it for King Gustaf of Sweden after he flew in for his annual duck shoot in the Wicklow Mountains.
The first duck dish I actually ever learned to cook in France was a salad of gesiers, the cooked gizzards of duck, sliced and tossed in the pan and served on salad leaves with a tasty dressing, a menu staple that the customers nationwide relished.
For sauces there is the classic orange but most fruits will really go with duck especially citrus ones but all of the berries, stoned fruits and wines work good too. It takes well to spices and herbs also but a quality duck will not need much doing to it. Never coat the crispy skin with a sauce though, a Michelin star was once rumoured lost for this culinary crime.
In Ireland we now produce wonderful duck in Monaghan called Silver Hill that is very much sought after abroad too. In all supermarkets now you will get two decent Irish fillets for a fiver. So it has never been more accessible and it’s quick too with just lashing them skin side first onto a large dry pan after scoring the skin, seasoning with salt and pepper and letting it sizzle there for five minutes each side on a low heat. Then leave them to rest a while as you use the remaining full flavoured fat for sautéing some spuds or green beans giving you a real good bang for your duck.