To Roast a Duckling

783383_chinees_food_4  To roast a duckling is an endeavor not meant for the faint-hearted of the kitchen. I’ve cooked duck in the past and it was disastrous- tough, pan-seared breast that I never researched how to make in the first place. How hard could it be, really?

It was the early years of marriage and my sweet husband ate every tough-to-chew last bit of it, while I looked at my plate deciding not to finish the ‘mistake’ on my plate. I knew then he was much too nice- or much too hungry. He argues that a person can be both, and that I must agree with.

Well, that was seven years ago and I have since broken down and learned that it doesn’t mean I’m not a natural in the kitchen if I have to read a recipe or study particular cooking techniques, especially in preparation for roasting poultry and game that are not regulars at our dinner table.

While recently shopping at our favorite Mediterranean grocery store, I scanned the frozen food aisle just to see if anything was new in prepared foods such as pizzas and falafel and meats like halal burgers and sejouk, or spicy sausages. I’m not a fan of frozen foods, but once in a while I do find something useful, especially at this store, which sells only halal products- very exciting in its own right.

Much to my surprise, sitting right next to the halal turkeys, I spotted a smaller frozen bird of some sort. I thought it was probably just another whole chicken but it seemed a tad bit larger so I turned it around to look at the label, not expecting it to be anything I would actually purchase (we already had an entire lamb being prepared for us as we shopped). Sure enough, it was the first frozen halal duckling I had ever seen before. I plopped it into the cart and hoped for the best, hoping I wasn’t kidding myself into thinking I could actually make up for the last bird.

At the checkout, the store clerk commented that the roast duckling would be ‘an extravagant meal’. “Great,” I thought. Just what I needed- not only to mess up the duck, but to waste money and ‘extravagant’ food in the process. “I’m in trouble now,” I murmured to myself.

I spent a couple of weeks letting the little duckling continue its destiny deep in the depths of my standing freezer. I thought about it often, trying to come up with my own recipe in my head, and then came to my senses: “NO! Not again, I will ruin the reputation of roast duckling for my husband forever if I do THAT again! I need the perfect recipe.”

Once again, Julia Child came to my rescue, renewing my hope in ever being able to successfully bring a duck to an edible level. My husband’s only preference this time around was not to make the orange sauce that traditionally accompanies this bird dish. “No problem, I’m sure Julia has a recipe for that,” I thought.

Life has a way of allowing you to surprise yourself once in a while. It just so happens that my newfound love of all things Julia Child ever created has brought me to remember the poultry pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Fortieth Anniversary Edition.

Simply put, “Caneton Roti”, or Roast Duckling, had real instructions I could follow on two pages (274-275), and I had all the ingredients in tow.

I followed the recipe exact, like an apprentice following a master chef in hopes of earning a Le Cordon Bleu diploma at the final exam. If I messed this one up, I would be traumatized. That’s why I chose the easiest of all the duck recipes, and the only one listed for roast duckling, not duck- aren’t they older, anyway?

I trussed it, cut off the wing tips and stuffed its cavity with fragrant herbs, just as instructed. I poured cut onions and carrots at the bottom of the roasting pan and laid him down gently out of the way of the vegetables. No water or broth needed for this baby- it would generate more fat than I could ever imagine. No need for basting, just keep removing the fat.

After a few hours (much longer than the recipe suggested, due to the funny temperament of my oven), it was finally done- successfully. Served with a side of garlicky mashed potatoes, it was worth the wait–and the work–and the need to follow a recipe, at least once in a while.

If you’d like to try this recipe, you can find it in Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 40th Anniversary Edition, Volume One. Alfred A. Knopf.

To find your own halal duckling, check out Midamar’s website. Each duckling costs about $15.00.

If you live in the Chicagoland area and want to take a drive out to the western suburbs to buy your halal meats, including a frozen Midamar duckling, check out our favorite spot: Mediterranean Oasis Mart Inc., 357 E Bailey Rd., Naperville, IL 60565; Telephone: (630) 420-9507. Ask for Abu Shoosha- he’ll take great care of you.

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