Cooking duck for a holiday feast takes a little more work than preparing turkey. Even the smallest turkey is enough for at least eight guests but one duck will feed only two to four, depending on appetites, side dishes and the size of the bird.
While you do need to cook more ducks for a feast, once the birds are in the oven, the work left to do is no more involved than with turkey – you just need to occasionally baste them, then turn them over about halfway through.
Glazed duck with kumquats, ginger and five-spice
I have an irrational fear of my guests going hungry (even though it has never happened), so I err on the side of caution and cook two ducks for four diners. This recipe is easy to scale up (or down) but if you are making more, you need to take the size of your oven into consideration: most standard-size home ovens will fit up to four ducks, on two racks.
Don’t use the skinny, small ducks that are sold in local supermarkets – they are not meaty enough. If you are buying the birds from a poultry vendor, you may need to order them a day or two in advance.
2 fresh ducks, at least 1.3kg each
Fine sea salt
200 grams honey or maple syrup
30ml rice wine or Chinese rose wine
1 tsp five-spice powder
About 90 grams peeled ginger, divided
About 400 grams kumquats
4 small cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
Cooking oil or pan-coating, as needed
1 If the ducks have the head and neck attached, chop them off as close to the body as possible. Chop off the wing tips. (The wing tips and neck can be used to make duck stock, although you won’t need it for this recipe.)
Weigh each duck separately, then times the weight by .01 – this is the amount of salt you will need. Weigh out the correct amount of salt, then sprinkle it over the duck, using more on the meaty parts (breast, legs and thighs) and less on the wings and back. Sprinkle some of the salt in the cavity of the bird. Put the ducks in a container, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
2 Take the ducks from the fridge about four hours before you plan to serve the meal. Grate 10 grams of the peeled ginger, preferably using a Japanese ceramic oroshigane.
Put the grated ginger in a small saucepan with the honey or maple syrup and the rice wine. Sprinkle the five-spice powder into the saucepan (if you add it all at once, it tends to clump up). Bring to a simmer, then cool to tepid.
3 Rinse the kumquats and drain them in a colander. Divide the remaining 80 grams of peeled ginger into four even portions and lightly crush each piece with the side of a cleaver. Put one piece of ginger into the cavity of each duck, then add a cinnamon stick and one star anise. Stuff about four kumquats into each duck cavity, then add one more piece of ginger and another cinnamon stick and star anise. Add more kumquats, packing them in so they are almost spilling out.
Use wooden toothpicks to “sew” up the flaps of skin hanging over the duck cavity: overlap the two pieces of skin, pierce the layers on one side with a toothpick, slide it under the layers and then out the other side. You will probably need to use three or four toothpicks for each duck, to prevent the kumquats from falling out.
4 Use pan-coating to spray a roasting pan large enough to hold the ducks, or brush it very lightly with oil. Put the stuffed ducks breast-side up in the pan and brush them thoroughly with the honey or maple-syrup mixture. Turn the birds over and brush the other side, making sure the entire surface of each duck is covered. Leave at room temperature for about two hours. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
5 Brush the tops of the ducks with the honey or maple-syrup glaze again, then slide the pan into the oven. Cook for 20 minutes, then take the pan from the oven and brush the tops once more with the glaze. Cook for 20 more minutes then carefully turn the ducks over so they are breast-side up. Brush with the glaze and bake for 20 minutes before brushing again.
Place the ducks back in the oven and bake for 20 more minutes (or longer, if the birds are larger than 1.3kg). Remove the pan from the oven and leave the ducks to rest for about 20 minutes before serving. You can use that time to make the kumquat relish.
This sweet, tangy relish goes well with the rich duck.
The roasted kumquats from the cavity of the glazed duck
3 large shallots
10 grams peeled and grated ginger
1 tsp black mustard seeds
40 grams muscovado or brown sugar, or more, to taste
60ml rice vinegar, or more, to taste
1 Remove the toothpicks from the duck and take the kumquats from the cavity (discard the ginger, cinnamon and star anise). Roughly chop the kumquats (they will be hot, so be careful) and put them in a pan; if you like, you can remove and discard the seeds, although they are edible.
2 Quarter the shallots, thinly slice them, then put them in the pan and add the grated ginger. Put the mustard seeds in a small, unoiled skillet placed over a medium flame. Shake the skillet constantly until the mustard seeds are toasted and fragrant, then add them to the pan with the other ingredients. Stir in the sugar and vinegar.
3 Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium flame, then lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, adding some water if the ingredients stick to the pan. Taste the relish and add more sugar and vinegar so the mixture has a sweet-tart flavour, then simmer for about five more minutes, adding a little water, if needed; the texture should be thick and jam-like. Transfer the relish to a bowl and serve as a side dish with the duck.