Crispy Skin Duck III: steam/roasting with a pressure cooker

24 04 2010

Today brings us a new tech for crispy duck skin. We’re going to pressure cook the duck partially and finish with roasting. This is a variant of the steam/roast method that gets a lot of airplay with the advantage that pressure cooking is faster, more convenient, and might be more effective at melting fat.

The idea behind steam roasting is that the wet steam effectively melts the fat better than dry heat in the oven. Roasting a fat-reduced bird should then produce a crisp skin. Deep frying is also an option here, but we went with roasting.

We began with the usual: separate the skin from the meat with a bicycle pump. We’re getting a lot better at this and it only takes a couple minutes now. Then, we dried the bird on a vertical roaster, uncovered, and with good air flow in the fridge for about 24 hours. Here it is afterward. The skin is often described as “like parchment” and you can see the light, dry texture.

The skin under the wings doesn’t dry well, so here you can see the contrast between dried and non-dried skin. The skin is originally thick, white, and moist. The dry skin is darker, thinner, and smooth.

We seasoned the inside of the duck before steaming with a half teaspoon of salt. Salting is pretty essential here and you need to do it before cooking or it won’t permeate the meat as well. We also slashed the skin to let the fat drain more effectively.

We pressure cooked the duck for 15 min at 15 PSI (2nd ring) in our pressure cooker. We reasoned that the fat seems to melt well at 250, which is about the temperature inside the pressure cooker at 15 PSI, and that the moist steam would help it render. We placed him on top of the steaming plate with a half cup of water. When he came out, he was glistening with fat droplets. We got about 3/4 c. of fat that had rendered into the water.

After we steamed him, we poured the light glaze (2T honey in 1c. water) over him and then let him dry in the fridge for 6 hours or so.

Roasting was at 350 for about 30 min. The skin was a bit uneven here, but much was a nice color.

Flavor was excellent — this duck really doesn’t need much but a little salt. The overall fat content was still pretty rich and only just lighter than drying and roasting alone. The meat was juicy, firm, and tender — just what we want. So, so far, not a major advance with the pressure cooker, but a very nice duck. We served him with a carrot & lemon vinaigrette salad and sauteed spinach with almonds.


Crispy Skin Duck — Part II

5 02 2010

Crispy Skin Duck — Part I

Well, it turns out that drying is a pretty important part of crispy skin. Here’s how it turned out. As you can see, the skin is crisp and a very nice brown color. The meat is firm and moist, not falling apart like the slow roasted duck.

Here’s how we got there.

We started with a lovely duck from our friends at Lee Wing Poultry. As in our first attempt, we pumped air under the skin with a bicycle pump to separate the skin from the flesh.

Then we introduced the trick we’re trying this time: drying the in refrigerator for 3 days to dry out the skin. We placed him on a vertical roaster so that air could circulate all around him while drying out in the refrigerator.

After a day, the skin was drier and a lighter brown/red color. The legs had not dried as much and were still white and soft.

The skin continued to dry another day.

On the morning of the third day, we poured a very light glaze over him. This was made of 2T honey, 1t salt, and a cup of water. It was heated until it all dissolved and then cooled to room temperature. We poured it over him twice before putting him in the fridge to dry out before we cooked him that night.

We placed him on a rack to collect the fat.

We roasted him at 425 for 15 min, followed by 1 hr 15 min @ 350. There was the option of raising the temp to 375 and cooking for another 15 min, but he seemed quite done at that point, so we let him rest for 20 min while we prepped the veggies.

We were actually shocked at how pretty he was coming out of the oven. Even though there was only a small amount of honey in the glaze, the skin browned up beautifully. He looked like he could have passed for a duck hanging up outside a Chinese BBQ.

We had a bag of mole negro that we had picked up from Specialty Produce that had been made by a company that sells in the Mercado de Abastos of Oaxaca. We had gotten lost there while visiting a couple years back and were really happy to have found the mole again. Next to the duck are some lovely brussels sprouts from Chino Nojo and our bacon.

Although the duck had gorgeous skin, there were a couple issues that are going to keep us playing with this for awhile.

One was that although the skin was crispy, it was thicker than we were expecting and somewhat leathery. We think that this may be due to the skin drying out too long. Next time, we will only dry 1-2 days.

There was also quite a bit more fat left on the duck than the slow roasted version. It did not render as much fat — only about 3/4c. Some of this fat stayed under the skin, which made for a rich duck, but maybe too rich for our tastes.

The final concern was that the flavor of the meat was not as good as it could have been. When we had the duck the next day, we found that a little salt was really the key. So, the meat when we first cooked it just wasn’t seasoned enough. This recipe had hardly any salt and we should have added more when we ate it.

If we try this this particular recipe again, we’ll cut the drying to 1-2 days, and salt the cavity or brine it for a few hours. It would be nice to get a bit more of the fat melted, but it was really tasty, so maybe we don’t have to work so hard on that one!

I am also very curious to see how cooking the duck in fat instead of roasting will alter the whole process. I think the next duck we’ll be playing with has a date with the deep fryer.

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.