Duck Soup

Not quite right, but pretty close.

Like most people I know, we had a small, quiet Thanksgiving at home, a switch from the larger dinner we usually go to hosted by one friend or another nearby. Because I’ve always been a guest at Thanksgiving, I’ve never made more than a side or two, so this was my big year.

So I made a plan: two kinds of potatoes (fried and mashed), a green bean casserole (everything from scratch including the fried onions, and using non-dairy milk to go easy on my tummy), buttered leek stuffing from bread I made the day before, roasted carrots. Instead of going the turkey route — turkey’s fine, I’m not against it, I just figured it was go big or go home time — I got a duck.

The internet assured me of two things: Ducks are easy to roast and hard to screw up, and also there are approximately infinity ways to roast a duck. So, as usual, when I’m attempting something new, I planned to just go the Mark Bittman route — brush with soy sauce, roast at high heat for 70 minutes or so.

But in the midst of cooking, I suddenly realized, with very little time to spare, that I do not own a rack on which to roast the duck. You need a rack because ducks are high in fat, and the fat renders off the bird when it’s roasting, and if you don’t elevate the bird above the fat then it will just kind of stew in its own fat (which I think makes it confit? but certainly not the texture you’re going for.) Googling madly, I found, in the comments of an article, a method called the “sitting duck” method that would supposedly work just fine. So I gulped and gave it a shot.

What this method requires is a deep dutch oven or some kind of deep pan, and a can. The commenter recommended a tallboy of some kind; I only had a typical beer can (I have become fond of The Athletic’s non-alcoholic beers and always have some around), but it worked fine.

Having trimmed the duck of excess fat, pricked its skin lightly with a fork, and pulled out the neck and innards, I dropped the oven temperature down to 325 and moved the bottom rack to the lowest setting. Then I drained the beer can into a pint glass (non-alcoholic beer is especially good for lunchtime) and filled it with water.

Then I … stuffed the can in its butt.

The next step was to put the duck into the dutch oven, upright, with the can propping it up and the legs arranged to keep it semi-steady. Then, paying homage to Mark Bittman, I brushed the bird with soy sauce.

Here is evidence:

Duck arranged properly — a sitting duck, get it? — I popped it into the oven, put about a quarter cup of water into the pan just to be safe, and set my watch timer for 20 minutes.

For the next hour and a half, every 20 minutes I used a baster to suck most of the fat out of the pan and put it into a jar. After 90 minutes were up, I cranked the temperature up to 400 degrees and continued for another hour or so, while roasting other things on the other rack.

I tested the duck after that time (with my Thermapen, possibly the best thing I own, apparently on sale today!) and it was actually a tad higher than the recommended 165 degrees, so I pulled it out, extracted the can with some difficulty, and let it sit for a bit.

The verdict: I slightly overcooked it, though it was plenty edible and not dry in the least, thanks to the fattiness of the duck. This, I realized, is what people meant when they said it’s hard to screw it up. It’s essentially a bird entirely composed of rich, dark meat. The skin did not crisp up as much as I’d wanted, so I think in the future, once I acquire a rack, I will try the high-heat way and see if I get different results.

But in a pinch, the sitting duck method worked fine. Once we’d eaten (it was quite tasty and tender) and I’d stripped the bird of the rest of the meat, I set the oven at 400 degrees, threw the whole carcass back in that same pan, and roasted it for an hour. Pulled it out, filled the pot with water to cover the carcass, and it simmered overnight on the stove. It smelled quite good when I got up this morning.

This morning, I added two small quartered onions, a handful of baby carrots, a couple stalks of celery, leftover chopped oregano, a huge sprig of rosemary, and some pepper and salt. Now it’s simmering away.

I’ll strain the stock in a bit through my mesh strainer and then, I think, make some duck ramen? But if anyone has a favorite duck stock recipe, please do drop it below.

And I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, or just a lovely Thursday, despite everything. (And if you had a triumph/mishap, please put it where everyone can benefit: in the comments!)

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