How to cook a great duck?
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 09, 2011 | 1644 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Adam Howton stocks duck in the frozen foods section at Winn-Dixie in Jasper. Many Auburn fans are planning to serve duck for Monday’s championship game. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Adam Howton stocks duck in the frozen foods section at Winn-Dixie in Jasper. Many Auburn fans are planning to serve duck for Monday’s championship game. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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“Cook the ducks” is more than a rallying cry of the Auburn football faithful. Some Tiger fans are planning to serve duck Monday night as their team takes on Oregon for the BCS championship.

Those who have bird on the menu better get it soon.

Musgrove Country Club Chef Phil Schirle said duck is usually found in the frozen foods section at area grocery stores.

“A good-sized duck weighs between four and five pounds. It should be thawed in the refrigerator for a couple of days,” Schirle said.

Extra prep time is also necessary to cook one of chef Greg Kilgore’s favorite duck dishes — duck confit, which is duck simmered in its own fat.

Most recipes call for the meat to be cured with salt and other seasonings for 12 to 36 hours before cooking.

“You can add duck confit to almost anything. It is really good on a grilled pizza with some Alabama goat cheese, caramelized onions and reduced balsamic,” said Kilgore, owner of Black Rock Bistro.

Cooks will find several innards stored in the duck. Duck liver makes a good pâté, Schirle said.

Like chicken, duck can be roasted as a whole or broken into pieces. However, duck also has a thick layer of fat that cooks must decide how to use.

Schirle suggested reserving duck fat to use in other dishes, such as fried potatoes.

Kilgore prefers to remove the fat layer, cut it into strips and cook it slowly in a pan.

“This will render all the fat out and result in some amazing cracklings,” Kilgore said.

Cracklings should be left on the stove until golden brown and drained immediately.

If cooks intend to grill duck breasts with the fat on, both Kilgore and Schirle recommended scoring it first in a checkerboard pattern.

The breasts should be placed fat side down over low heat so the fat can render and the skin can crisp without burning before cooking on the other side.

Schirle said duck breasts can also be wrapped in bacon and baked in the oven.

Both chefs said that overcooking duck is a common mistake. If a duck looks “done,” it has cooked too long.

“It’s okay for the meat to be pink. You can eat it medium,” Schirle said.

Kilgore provided a simple test for determining if a duck breast is ready to eat.

It should be soft and bounce back slowly when a finger is pressed into it. If it doesn’t bounce back, it is underdone. If it is firm, it is overdone.

Kilgore also reminded people to allow for carryover cooking because food continues to cook for at least five minutes after being removed from heat.

“One of the most common mistakes made when cooking any kind of fowl is that people have a tendency to overcook and under season,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore added that cooks of all skill levels are sometimes intimidated by duck because it is unfamiliar to them.

Although most Walker County families don’t usually serve duck for dinner, Schirle is certainly a fan. He once won a culinary award for a smoked duck and andouille gumbo recipe.

Schirle said that domestic duck does not have as strong a flavor as wild game, but it doesn’t taste like chicken, either.

“Turkey and chicken are at the milder end of the poultry scale. Even pheasant is milder than duck and goose,” Schirle said.

He encouraged those who have never eaten duck to consider giving it a try.

“It may seem a little exotic, but it’s good to experiment with different flavors and new tastes,” Schirle said.