Don’t know what to do with all those potato peels? Running out of room in your oven for stuffing? Gravy tasting a little flat? Head to our holiday hub, How to Thanksgiving Smarter, Not Harder, for everything you need to know—and nothing you don’t—to make this year’s holiday easier, speedier, and tastier.
If you find yourself tasked with hosting this holiday season and are wondering what to make, may I humbly offer up roast duck? Not much more effort than chicken, yet producing far more oohs and aahs all around, duck is a great choice for an attention-grabbing centerpiece for Thanksgiving, or anytime throughout the year.
Compared to turkey and chicken, duck is richer—some may say gamier—in taste and has a thick layer of fat. This means it can handle strong flavors (like this pomegranate-and-honey glaze) and it welcomes a hands-off preparation (because it basically bastes itself). For a dinner party, duck is also surprisingly affordable: Right now, a 5-pound whole duckling is $25.95 (or $5.19/pound) on FreshDirect, an online grocery service. Similarly, fresh chickens can be purchased for anywhere between $2.19/pound and $7.19/pound. A 5-pound duck can serve about four as a main, and perhaps more as part of a larger spread.
Here are a few simple tips for getting the most out of your duck:
Poke the fat.
Because of the duck’s generous fat layer, you want to give ample opportunity for it to render. By poking the duck’s skin with a fork or paring knife (being careful not to pierce the actual meat), you’re speeding up the fat-releasing process during cooking.
Dry brine and chill.
Although duck is more flavorful than some of its poultry counterparts, it can still benefit from a dry brine. Salt is the key component in brining—it seasons the meat while also pulling out excess moisture. In this recipe, a mixture of salt, sugar, thyme, and orange zest gives the duck a fragrant head start. The brining time can be flexible depending on your schedule: at least 12 hours or up to two days.
We all know crisped, golden skin is king. Leaving the bird uncovered in the fridge dries out the surface moisture, doing all the hard work for you. This way, come cook time, the duck will effortlessly achieve a nicely browned skin.
Roast on a rack.
Cook the bird on a raised rack in a sheet pan or roasting tray. This way, the oven’s heat can surround the duck and the fat can pool at the bottom (adding a bit of water at the bottom of the tray avoids splattering). For especially fatty duck, you’ll benefit from starting the cooking process with the breast side down for the first 40 minutes or so, before flipping it breast side up for the rest of the roast, to ensure even browning and fat rendering all around.
Give it a rest.
Like any large-format roast, a whole duck needs a break after exiting the oven—figure at least 30 minutes; the meat needs time to rest so the juices can redistribute throughout the bird. Carving right after roasting will give you a sad slice sitting in a pool of precious, leaked juices. Let the duck hang out, and you can look forward to tender, succulent meat. While half an hour is a chunk of time, it goes quickly: Catch up on dishes, or prep a crunchy salad.
Save the fat.
The rendered fat, a true bonus ingredient, is gold. Save it for roasting potatoes, sautéing vegetables, and boosting beans, rice, and more. Even a duck breast will come with an ample amount of fat; scored and rendered slowly skin side down in a pan, you’ll be richly rewarded in due time. Cool and strain the fat into an airtight container, and store in the fridge (your future fried eggs will thank you).
Don’t toss those bones.
Yes, there’s more. Not only is the duck fat pure culinary gold, the carcass is nothing to sniff at. Be sure to save it for soup-making. The ensuing meaty stock is just begging to become the base of your next bowl of ramen or a twist on chicken noodle soup.