Crispy Skin Duck — Part I

28 01 2010

What I really want is to be able to make is Peking duck at home — with crispy skin and juicy, richly flavored meat. That turns out to be pretty difficult, and we might have a hard time getting there, but we’re getting to something pretty tasty in the meantime.

There are a lot of theories about how to best get crispy duck skin and getting this badge will mean trying a number of them out. Today, we are going to separate the skin from the flesh with a bicycle pump and slow roast the duck a la the “Five Hour Duck” recipe to see if that helps the skin get crispy.

First up, the duck. We have used frozen ducks from Ralph’s (a general grocery store) and 99 Ranch, but our favorite duck is from this place: Lee Wing Poultry. Another place that sells frozen duck, as well as pheasants, capons, and quails is Iowa Meat Farms.

On the review of Lee Wing Poultry, there is a review that says if you are not Vietnamese, not to go there because they will be mean to you. We’re not Vietnamese, and our experience has been that they were polite, but not terribly warm, on the first visit. By the third, they were smiling and remembered we liked the duck. Pretty much like any other place — if you’re nice, excited about the food, and give them business, they will be very nice in return.

Here’s our duck. He looks much better to us than what we have gotten when they are frozen: the skin is taut and the eyes are clear.

The main problem with cooking duck is that it is incredibly fatty. From a 5lb duck, you can get 1 1/2 – 2 cups of rendered duck fat. This is very tasty stuff, but if you don’t get it off the duck, the skin stays fatty and does not crisp up.

There are a number of ways to try to get the fat to melt. One way that seems to help is to separate the skin from the meat before cooking. You could do this with your fingers, but it is hard to get it all that way. Instead, enter the Bicycle Pump (or a firm straw, like bamboo, and powerful lungs). We use this one just for duck pumping, cover the tip with plastic wrap when we are using it, and clean it like a kitchen utensil.

Some sources suggest putting the pump or the straw into a hole at the top in the neck. This can be hard if you have bought a duck without a neck, but we have found that it is hard even when you have a duck with a neck that has been killed and sold in the Buddhist style with head & feet.

Instead, we have found that the spot at the bottom of the breast is quite effective. You stick in the pump nozzle between the skin and the flesh and go at it. If you are not getting air pumped under the skin, puffing up the skin, find a different spot and keep trying.

When you get a bunch of air in there, you can move the bubble around with your hands to get it to the hard-to-reach places like the back and legs.

When he was puffed up, we cut off his head and feet and placed him in a rack to cook. The Five Hour Duck recipe suggests cooking at 300F for 4 hours,followed by 1 hr at 350-400 to crisp. We have found this to be too long, drying out the meat, and are using 275F at 3 1/2 hours, followed by glazing and about 30 min at 350F. Here he is after the first hour.

And the second (flipped on his back):

And third:

And after the last half-hour at 275F:

We made a glaze of soy, ginger, duck broth from the liquid in the pan, green onion, honey, and candied yuzu peel with syrup. We reduced it by about half and then basted the duck every 5 min or so until it was done — caramelized, but not burned. It took just over 30 min to get there. Here he is cut up with some green onion after letting him rest for 15 min:

We served him with a type of Japanese bok choy sauteed with bacon, green garlic, and a splash of vermouth.

The flavor on this duck was excellent — rich, meaty flavor of duck with a light, slightly sweet glaze. The green onion works well, too. The texture of the meat comes out soft — it falls apart like after a long braise, which can be good or bad. It was slightly dry, but not as bad as how it was the first time we did it with the five hours. I think I like my duck meat to be firmer and juicier, but this is still very tasty. The skin had lost most of its fat, which was good, but it still was not very crispy. Great flavor, though.

We had leftovers the next day for brunch: cream puffs with a poached egg, roast duck, and creme fraiche. Very tasty, if not the easiest things to eat!

Most recipes for Five Hour Duck ask you to slash the skin, but this time, we did not do that and used the pump to separate the skin instead. It was effective at getting most the fat to drain away: we ended up with just over 1 1/2 cups of duck fat. The skin was left in large pieces, which was a good thing. However, it wasn’t enough to totally crisp the skin, even though it was effective at making a very tasty duck with flavorful and not too fatty skin.

An additional step that we are going to try is drying out the skin first. Often, Peking duck recipes ask you to dry the skin in front of a fan or in the fridge. So, tune in next time and we’ll add a drying step to see if that takes us to super crispy skin.

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