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Rye and duck cookery: Part 2

hansjoakim's picture

Rye and duck cookery: Part 2

While part 1 of this week's blog entry explored the wonderful world of rye, part 2 is fully devoted to the good things that come from the duck. I don't use duck that often, but when I do, I like to buy a whole duck and book the whole weekend for fun in the kitchen. Even though it can be quite delicious roasted, I personally think it's better to work with the different parts of the duck separately. If you roast the whole bird, you know that when the breast pieces are perfectly cooked, the legs will be partly done and far from tender. Roasting the bird longer will make the legs more palatable, but the breasts will be dry... So why not break it down and cook each part on its own?

My plan for the weekend was to pan fry the duck breasts, make a stock from the bones, render duck fat from the skin and confit the duck legs. The legs are rubbed with coarse sea salt, some crushed pepper and cloves, as well as a little thyme and slices of garlic.

Leave the legs in the dry cure at least overnight, or up to 48 hours, and make sure you wash it off with cold running water before continuing with the confit. Just rubbing the salt off might leave you with overtly salty duck legs (a shame after so much work!!).

Marching onwards, render fat (for the confit) and cook stock with the bones.

A duck stock is a nice substitute for chicken stock, and is perfect in a risotto for your duck breasts. You could also braise the legs using the duck stock as a nice alternative to the confit method of preparing them. To extract as much flavour as possible, I like to roast the bones until well-browned, before adding to a pot with stock vegetables and topping up with cold water. Skim, skim, skim and let it simmer for a few hours, and then reduce it to the concentration you're after.

While the stock is simmering away, get some pasta going:

and if the stock still needs some time before it's done, this is a nice time to cook the breast pieces and enjoy them with pasta, some greens and a crisp white wine:

This left me rather exhausted, so I called it a day and came back fresh and relaxed the following day to get the legs going (literally). As mentioned, cleanse them under cold running water, pat well dry, and snuggle them tightly into a cooking vessel. The amount of fat needed to poach them tender is very dependent on your cooking vessel; this time, I only had two legs to confit, so I used an ovenproof baking dish for the job. Melt the fat and get it close to 100 dC, before pouring it over the legs and into the dish. Put the dish in a low oven (roughly 90 dC - 95 dC), and let it work its miracle for 4 - 6 hours, depending on how melting-and-falling-off-the-bone tender you like them.

Previously, I've tried to prepare the confit on the stovetop, but I found it very hard to keep a constant simmering temperature (I want somewhere between 85 dC and 90 dC for the duration of the cooking time), and the meat ended up tasting slightly "stringy". I think this can be due to cooking the legs at too high temperatures in the fat; a low oven and an instant read thermometer inserted into the cooking vessel is a much more convenient way, I think. After it's time was up, I left the legs to cool in the fat:

These would sit very well right where they are, but preferrably in the fridge, for weeks. Another use of the confit, is to make rillettes, probably my most favourite bread and baguette spread:

It's hard to make shredded and potted meat look delicious in a photography, but I hope you believe me when I say it tastes wonderful. Moist, spreadable and intensely duck flavoured. After all, this is pure duck; the leg meat is simply shredded and moistened with fat and the jelly from the confit cooking vessel. Kept air-tight, the rillettes can be stored for weeks. It also makes the most astonishing ravioli filling:

Phew! That was a long weekend, but it was also a ton of fun. I like to shift around and work in the kitchen, and putting all the bits from an animal to good use, feels rewarding. Stored (confit jelly, confit, and/or rillettes in the fridge, raviolis made up and frozen), this duck will keep me happy for a long time to come.


SylviaH's picture

Cont. from my post on 1.  Love the wonderful photo's and post.  


hansjoakim's picture

Thanks a lot for your comments to both blog entries, Sylvia! I hope you had a nice week off, and came back fresh and relaxed to do more baking :)

dabrownman's picture

fit for a king and made so many easy yet tasty ways.   Nice to see folks eating well.  Thanks for sharing.

hansjoakim's picture

thanks so much, my friend! Keep on baking (and cooking).

Janetcook's picture


When I saw the title of this post of yours I cringed a bit as I have 2 ducks that come to our driveway every year this time of year and I have grown quite fond of them....

Second thoughts were fond memories of my dad who loved to hunt ducks and them cook them up into dishes similar to yours.  He would have loved to sit down at your table with you to enjoy these delicacies of yours. He was a wonderful cook and very creative and I could never figure out how he knew what to add to the foods he prepared.  He was one of those people who just 'knew' and was at home in the kitchen.  Allowed him to relax after a hectic week - he also was a weekend cook/baker.

I did have third thoughts and those were of dishes.....With my father the dishes were our (the kiddos) territory and we were the dishwashers, driers and put-a-wayers...Even though there were piles of them to be done....I do have very fond memories of washing them with my sisters and, to this day, I still prefer washing dishes by hand.  I hope you have some help with yours as I know it can be a lot of extra work at the end of a long productive day in the kitchen.

Take Care,


hansjoakim's picture

Oh yes, you told me about the ducks that come and visit you every year. Mine was a farmed variety, though ;-)  I guess even the wild ones get used to people quite fast, and the ones around my house don't seem to mind people walking by them all that much. It's quite amusing to stop and watch them go about their business; washing their feathers in water, the male duck swimming after his partner on the lake or chasing off a potential rival.

Thanks also for sharing some of your memories of your father! It's fascinating how some people have a natural instinct (literally a gut feeling) for what flavours and ingredients go well together, and how to get the most out of the ingredients they have on hand. I'm far less gifted so I rely a lot on cookbooks, but working around in the kitchen is still my favourite pastime, just as it was for your father.  Thanks again, Janet!

rossnroller's picture

Love duck! And I think there's much to be said for your strategy of doing different sections of the bird in different ways. Duck is expensive here, and I usually buy it only 2 or 3 times per year. Most of the time, I do something along the lines of duck a l'orange. Yes, often ridiculed for being "so 70s" and passe, but I shrug off that sort of fashion-based attitude towards food. I happen to love the combination of orange and duck. I made a Vietnamese-style version last year that added ginger, honey and mild chilli to the mix in a most tantalising way. But back to your post...

The breast looks just perfect, and I love your simple accompaniment of home-made pasta, leeks and greens (blanched or fresh rocket?). When you have something as delicious as duck breast, those sorts of simple flavour combos are just perfect.

For me, duck legs are always a bit disappointing when you roast the whole bird - intense flavour, but not much meat and can be dry by the time the rest of the bird is finished, as you say. I've found this to be the case even if protected in foil after browning. So, your turning them into rilettes sounds like a terrific idea. And the ravioli - oh my! I suspect this is a rare instance where the reality beats anything the imagination can conjure up.

As for duck stock - as you say, makes a great risotto. The stock is one of the best things about cooking with duck, I reckon. Soups take on another dimension when duck stock is the foundation.

And let's not forget the fat! Smokes out your kitchen, but roast potatoes never tasted better!

You know, I think you've inspired a trip to the little Asian butcher I get my ducks from. Way past time when I think about it (and even when I don't)!

Thanks for another terrif post and set of pics!


hansjoakim's picture

Thanks so much, my friend, for your kind comments! As always, it's great to hear from you.

Yes, duck is not the cheapest cut around, but at least here, buying a whole duck will give you a lot in return compared to e.g. beef, veal or even lamb. But it is substantial and quite heavy fare, so I'm also looking at 2 - 3 times per year, I reckon. That was also partly why I wanted to blog about it, once I first decided to clean out the weekend for working with a duck.

Duck a l'orange is a classic, Ross! :-D  Couldn't agree more. Your Vietnamese version sounds most fascinating; duck, like pork, take very well to sweet flavouring or Asian spices. I'm excited to read that you're heading out for a duck yourself, Ross, and I hope that you'll share some bits from your cooking with us here at TFL afterwards!

Thanks, Ross, and have a nice day!

Franko's picture

I was about to comment on Part 1 of this post but thought I should check out Part 2 before I did. Your lovely rye bread and lemon tart from the 1st installment were upstaged by the sight of duck being prepared I'm afraid. Since reading  your'e *previous post* on duck confit I've made it several times now over the last year. Never having had it before I can now vouch for it's incredible flavour and texture, although a nice piece of pork belly confit given a good crisping suits me just fine as well. I've yet to make duck rillettes, though I have made pork, and smoked tuna rillettes and agree wholeheartedly it's one of the best type of spreads to put on a good bread I've run across. Thanks to you, and Eric Hanner with his post on home made *pastrami*, I've taken quite an interest in charcuterie over the last year. It's seems to me such a natural extension of our primary goal of making hand crafted bread, I'm sorry it took so long for me to discover it. Two books, one terrine far, Cuisinart meat grinder/sausage maker, in addition to curing salts, hog casings and a cold smoker, your inspiring posts have resulted in an entirely new reason for me to spend time in the kitchen learning to make some delicious accompaniments to the breads I make.

Many thanks Hans, your entire post pts. 1 & 2 is a great read, enjoyable to anyone interested in preparing and eating great food.

All the best ,


hansjoakim's picture

Hi Franko, and thanks so much for your kind reply! It's good to hear from you.

I'm also very excited to read about your endeavours into the world of charcuterie! I completely agree with your point regarding hand-crafted foods; pursuing homemade confits, sausages and other cured meats is in many ways a natural extension to our quest to master the craft of sourdough. Curing is quite similar to sourdough baking in the sense that you'll need to make a hospitable environment for the beneficial bacteria that will transform your basic ingredients to the next level(s). Both pursuits require patience, knowledge and respect for the basic ingredients - and the rewards can be boundless.

I do enjoy making confit, and so far I've tried this cooking method with duck legs, pork shoulder, pork belly and lamb shoulder (boned and rolled). I think they're all great in their own way, but I might just prefer duck legs and pork belly for this cooking technique. If you enjoy pork rillettes, I'm pretty sure you'll love duck rillettes too, Franko! Smoked tuna rillettes sound excellent, by the way... You mix the tuna with some oil, olives and lemon juice, perhaps?

What kind of products have you been making with your gear, Franko? I lack the space to cold smoke and to properly cure sausages (no cellar or chilled space that really fits the temperature and humidity bill, and making a custom curing chamber is still a bit ahead of my current skill level and wallet, I'm afraid), but I do enjoy making uncured sausages and dry curing and salting various cuts, e.g. turning pork belly into bacon and salt pork. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your own efforts, Franko! What two books do you have on the subject, by the way? One of them is perhaps Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn?

Franko's picture

Hi Hans, 

You're very close on how I prepared the smoked tuna rillettes, instead of olive oil I used butter, along with capers and lemon juice. Like you, I don't have a suitable area in the house for making cured sausages nor does the budget allow for a cabinet at this time, but maybe someday. So far my charcuterie projects have been bacon, fresh sausages, terrines, fish/seafood mousselines, smoked salmon, gravlax, confit of duck and pork as well as lemons and tomatoes. The eye opener has been bacon! So easy to do and so much better than most of what's passed off as bacon these days. Rhulman and Polcyn's "Charcuterie" was the first book I purchased and since have acquired "the art of charcuterie" by John Kowalski and The Culinary Institute of America. The latter is for all intents a text on the subject, with in depth material on food safety, curing, smoking, etc. I recommend it if your looking for a new book on charcuterie.

Good to hear from you Hans, all the best.


hansjoakim's picture

Thanks for recommending the book by Kowalski and the CIA, Franko, I'll definitely look it up. It's been a while since I last checked, but I think Ruhlman and Polcyn have a follow-up volume to "Charcuterie" in the works. From what I recall, this new one will be more devoted to in-depth coverage of cured sausages. There's also a classic text by Jane Grigson on classic French pork cookery that includes quite a few charcuterie recipes - she is a bit heavy handed with saltpetre in her recipes, so it's probably a book best suited for inspiration and as a starting point for further studies via Google, but it is nonetheless a very fine collection of classic recipes. Somewhat similar to the books by Elizabeth David.

Well, it's good to know that I'm not the only one missing out on the fun of proper cured sausages... it's some comfort knowing you're in the same boat as me  ;-)

Syd's picture

Excellent Hans and I love your reasoning for cutting the duck up into its different parts.  Makes good sense and the variety makes for interesting eating, too.  Those duck breasts look realy rare.  All they need is one good vet and they will be up and swimming on the pond again.  Is it usual to cook duck so rare?  The only duck I have ever eaten is the Chinese crispy duck variety. Your posts are always so interesting.


hansjoakim's picture

Thanks for your kind comments, Syd, to both blog entries!

The breasts were rare, indeed ;D  Any less done and they'd be alive. They were cooked to an internal temperature of 52dC, which is rare, but I also suspect the colours in the photo could be a bit deceiving, as the breasts were not particularly "bloody" in the centre.

Thanks again!

Isand66's picture

Great post Hans..

Thanks for letting us into your exciting kitchen.

Those ravioli must have been amazing.



dmsnyder's picture

So many good ideas, and the photos are wonderful!

I keep promising myself to buy a whole duck and do something like what you did. You may have pushed me over the edge!

Have you ever made confit with duck breast? I've had confit of half ducks a couple of times in Paris. The halves were just roasted and served. The skin was impossibly crisp and delicious.


hansjoakim's picture

Thanks for your very kind compliments to both blog entries, David!

I'd be more than happy to step up and take the blame if you now feel pushed over the edge and are heading out for a whole duck, David :) I'm sure you'd enjoy both the work and the flavours involved, and I'm quite sure you'd prepare a stunning SF sourdough to give with it. Let me know if you'd like some more specifics on the different parts in my blog.

Although I have read accounts where the duck breasts have been thrown in with the legs, I've never tried to make confit of the breasts myself. Whereas the legs require several hours to tenderise, the breast pieces are so tender in themselves, I take it they would only need a very short poach in the fat to be done.

A duck without a crisp skin is arguably worse than a créme brûlée without the layer of hard caramel. ;)

Thanks again, David!