Ten months ago, a recipe for Chinese lacquered roast chicken from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes changed my life. It's brilliant and simple, and because it changed my life, I thought that was the end of that, recipe-development-wise. But the first time I wrote about it, my friend Michalene said, provocatively, "Have you tried it on a duck?"
I couldn't wait to give it a go. Unfortunately, it flopped: The duck's skin burned before the meat was cooked enough.
A mission was launched. I felt this duck could work, and I would find a way to make it work – even if I had to roast a hundred ducks.
The very next try I got incredibly lucky – hitting the timing and temperature exactly right. What I got is what you see here: a gorgeous, shining, crisp-skinned duck whose meat was perfectly seasoned, wonderfully tender and incredibly succulent and flavorful. I couldn't believe something that insanely delicious was that easy to achieve. I made some Chinese steamed buns to go with it, and served it with cilantro, sliced scallions and hoisin sauce from a jar. But the duck needed no accouterments – it was incredible on its own.
You don't have to give it an Asian spin, though. The duck works beautifully as the centerpiece of a festive European- or American-style feast, surrounded by things like roast potatoes or sweet potato gratin and Brussels sprouts or braised Tuscan kale.
Here's how easy the killer duck is to achieve. It takes some time – two days – but very little effort.
Two days before you're going to serve it, you paint the bird with a glaze made from half-honey and half-soy sauce, and scatter salt on it. Slide it (uncovered) on a pan in the fridge. Next day, paint the bird all over again with the leftover glaze, and let it sit uncovered in the fridge overnight again. Next day, roast the bird at 450 for ten minutes, turn the temp down to 325 and let the bird roast for two hours.
That's it. No flipping the bird or basted or fussing about it in any way. No need to make a sauce to go with it – it's that delicious. It's the perfect dreamy dinner for two or three people.
But here come the holidays, I thought. Wouldn't it be great to make two ducks and make them star of a dinner for four two six? So I invited a couple of friends over, and made glazed two ducks. Into the oven they went, and when my friends arrived, the house was filled with their enchanting aroma.
An hour later, after nibbles and drinks and general optimistic glee, we took our seats at the table. But these two ducks were not as wonderful: Set just next to each other on their rack set in a sheet pan, they crowded each other, preventing even browning. One side of each bird was a wee bit flabby, and I had to turn them and leave them in the oven longer, monkeying with the temperature to brown them properly.
Back to the store I went, seeking more ducks.
Fresh ducks have a funny way of showing up in stores at exactly the moment I'm not planning on making one. It's just like the hair-dryer in the hotel rule. If you pack a hair dryer, you'll find one in your hotel room when you check in. If you don't pack one, you won't find one.
So, with two more friends invited for Saturday night duck dinner, on Wednesday I headed to the Whole Foods Market where I'd recently seen those gorgeous fresh ducks – at a much lower price than the last place I picked up a couple. (They set me back a whopping $45 each at Central Market; at Whole Foods they wanted $30-something each for 4 1/2 to 5 pound ducks.) When I arrived at Whole Foods this time, alas, there were no ducks to be had. I almost called another Whole Foods, when I thought better of it, deciding instead to head to the giant Asian supermarket, Super H-Mart, that's only a 10-minute longer drive from home.
I thought I'd find fresh ducks at Super H-Mart, but I only found frozen ones. That was the bad news. The great news: The nice-looking Long Island ducks were only $16.50 apiece. Fortunately, they defrosted quickly enough for me to glaze them on Thursday.
This time I solved the even-browning problem: I set them as far apart on the sheet pan as I could before roasting them. I thought I'd have to rotate the birds halfway through roasting for even browning, but those ducks continued to brown evenly as I looked in in them now and then. The space between them did the trick. Oh, man, they looked good – and they were!
This time I served them more Euro- or American-style: We started dinner with a baby kale and sweet-potato salad, then had the duck with roast potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta. It was a super-easy dinner to put together, as I literally never turned on the stove. (I'm lucky enough to have two ovens, though you could always make the potatoes ahead of time and reheat them and roast the Brussels sprouts while the duck is resting.)
I'll let you go now. I know you'll want to run off and procure a duck or two.
Here's the recipe:
Be sure to let us know how you love it! And happy holidays from Cooks Without Borders.