Matt Golinski explores the great duck mystery – or why cooking duck is so different to chicken.
Most of us have roasted a chicken at some point in our lives, or grilled a chicken satay, or thrown together a chicken curry.
Nothing to it right?
So why is it that cooking a bird that doesn’t seem that much different from the humble chook, its water-loving cousin the duck, is surrounded by so much mystery and frustration?
Why is it so often the ruin of what should have been a perfectly flawless dinner party?
Although they may seem pretty similar, these two animals are built very differently because they live very different lifestyles.
The chicken is a jungle bird that scratches around in the undergrowth, and even though it sports a pair of wings, they may as well be a pair of ping pong bats for all the good they do to help it fly! Exercise is never high on their list of priorities and neither is travel.
The duck, on the other hand, is one of the elite sportspeople of the bird world. They love to fly, in fact in nature they migrate over long distances, and they are at their happiest when they’re swimming around a pond with their mates, paddling like crazy with those big, webbed feet.
Essentially, they have both evolved to suit their way of life, and that means that when we cook them, we have to approach them as the completely different animals that they are.
Here’s my advice on getting the best out of these beautiful birds:
Chicken breast and leg meat can both be grilled, stir fried, roasted, barbequed or practically any other cooking method as long as they’re cooked through to avoid any chance of salmonella poisoning. Leg and thigh meat is a bit more forgiving when it comes to cooking times, so it’s better to use in curries and casseroles, as breast meat tends to dry out when it’s overdone.
Duck breasts and legs need to be treated very differently from each other.
The breast should be treated more like a piece of red meat than like chicken. It needs to be cooked on its skin first to render out all the excess fat and get it super crispy. It’s at its juiciest when it’s cooked through to medium-rare or medium and allowed to rest so the meat itself is pink all the way through.
The legs of a duck have a lot of connective tissue because of all the work they do, and so they need to be cooked long and slow. Braising them in a sauce or salting them then cooking them slowly under a layer of duck fat are two common ways of getting them right.
To roast a whole duck, I like to do it much slower than a chicken, about three hours at a low temperature, around 140 degrees Celsius, and cover it with baking paper and foil for the first half of the cooking time. This gives it plenty of chance to render out its fat and keeps it from drying out.
Most importantly, whether it’s a chicken or a duck you want to impress with, remember the end product is only as good as the ingredients you begin with.
Choose quality, ethically-raised birds. You’ll always eat better, and you’ll be making the world a better place. Not to mention impressing your dinner party guests! Now, pass me the Pinot…