Magazine article The Spectator

In for a Duck

Magazine article The Spectator

In for a Duck

Article excerpt

In the past I have kept Indian Runner ducks - with their long necks and shuffling gait they provide much amusement for children - Khaki Campbells for their egg-laying, and Muscovy ducks, which have intelligence and character. But I never ate any of them. It was not until later that I learnt that Muscovys, also known as Barbary ducks, have a higher proportion of lean breast meat than other ducks, and that in France they are crossed with Pekin and Rouen ducks to produce foie gras. But our Muscovys, which would wag their tail feathers when they were about to be fed, were really farm pets.

A recent crossbreed, mating mallard with Pekin, has produced a duck reared in Suffolk and sold as Gressingham, which also has plenty of breast meat (magret in French). Apparently all domestic ducks, except for the Muscovy which came originally from South America, were bred from the mallard - including the Aylesbury and Norfolk strains, which are probably what we get when we buy a duck for roasting.

To ensure that it has a crispy skin when cooked, prick the duck all over with a fork, pour boiling water over it and repeat the exercise, then leave the bird to cool for an hour or so (the Chinese hang their ducks out to dry) before roasting it in a hot oven for at least an hour. I find it hard to resist a sage-and-onion stuffing with duck (the invention of a famous philandering naval captain, Sir Kenelm Digby, in the 17th century), also a strongly flavoured gravy.

Distant memories of duck a l'orange, in the days when every nice young girl trained at the Cordon Bleu cookery school in London was liable to smother a duck with not only a thick orange gravy but honey and cherries as well, have rather put me off these sweet combinations. But I have nothing against a sauce bigarade, made with bitter Seville oranges (juice and zest), plus stock, the duck juices, a little sugar and a glass of Madeira. While apple sauce is traditionally offered with duck, the Welsh prefer theirs with onion sauce. Peas are a classic accompanying vegetable; so too are turnips which, when roasted round the bird, will absorb some of its fat.

Although a domestic duck should always be well cooked, the breasts, which are often sold separately, are better served pinkish - whether or not they are then thinly sliced and arranged poncily on the plate in the shape of a fan. They could then be eaten with mashed potato and a simple sauce made with red wine, chopped shallots, a spoonful of soy and of raspberry vinegar. …

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