Thomas J. Story
We've always loved duck at Sunset: roasted, stuffed, barbecued, smoked, steamed Chinese-style, put in Polish meat pies, and sometimes presented on the holiday table instead of turkey.
In our early days, we were talking wild duck, not farmed. After all, when Sunset published its first issue, in 1898, the West was only a few years removed from its frontier past, and meat often came from the woods and fields.
In our first four years alone, we ran more than 20 stories on fishing and hunting, describing woods, fields, and mountains practically leaping with game.
"This is a sportsman's paradise!" exclaimed one excited Easterner quoted in a 1901 article. Through our history, we've printed recipes for rabbit, squirrel, venison, wild boar, grouse, pheasant, quail, even turtle and antelope, catering to a readership that knew exactly where its meat came from.
Our hunting days are, relatively speaking, behind us, and most of us buy our meat shrink-wrapped. But Sunset still publishes recipes for duck, because it's such delicious meat ― full of flavor and, without the skin, lower in fat than chicken (although the skin, well crisped, is a treat).
Here are two of our favorite recipes from our hunter-gatherer past, using easier-to-find farm-raised duck. Because wild duck is leaner than farm-raised, we've adjusted cooking times accordingly, and have also clarified the instructions where necessary.
Farm-raised versus wild ducks
Ducks harvested from the wild ― whether they be meaty mallards or some of the close to 100 other varieties of game ducks, such as gladwell, pintail, teal, shoveler, or canvasback ― are generally pretty lean, having been streamlined by plenty of flying and diving for their food. Wild ducks usually have dark, rich-tasting meat. Because they're so lean, they overcook and dry out very easily, and must be cooked hot and fast or braised slowly, and carefully watched. When pricked, their juices should run reddish pink.
Farm-raised ducks, by comparison, are milder and paler (though the meat still rosy-brown), and have a thick layer of fat, since they don't move much and their diet of corn and grain tends to plump them up. They need to be cooked more slowly so that the fat renders, and when they're pricked, the juices should run clear.
Types of farm-raised duck
A few different varieties are available on the market today:
• Pekin (also known as White Pekin or Long Island): by far the most common breed, it's small, dainty, and the fattiest of the domestic ducks.
• Muscovy: Our favorite. Big and meaty, with an appealingly musky flavor.
• Moulard: Large and usually leaner than either of the above types, Moulards are typically raised for foie gras production.
Where to find it
Duck breasts are usually available at gourmet grocery stores, but you can also mail-order them from Grimaud Farms (800/466-9955), in Stockton, CA, which specializes in Muscovies, or from Sonoma County Poultry (800/953-8257), in Penngrove, CA, which raises a very flavorful strain of Pekin. Whole ducks generally need to be special-ordered.
More duck recipes
Pinot-Braised Duck with Spicy Greens
Thyme-Roasted Duck Breast with Orange-Wine Sauce
Duck a l'Orange
Duck Breast with Escarole and Toast
Green Curry Duck and Potatoes
Skinned Duck Confit with Roasted Cracklings