Roasted mallard from Delevan National Wildlife Refuge - Maxwell, Calif.
* One wild duck, plucked and dressed whole
* Two celery sticks or carrots
* Oven (a toaster oven will work for teal)
* Meat thermometer
Preheat oven to 450 or 500 degrees.
Pat the bird dry with a paper towel and salt the duck's skin.
Brown the duck in a cast iron pan over medium heat, preferably using duck fat, but oil will do. Use tongs to turn it so it browns on all sides. This will take a few minutes to get that golden brown that drives your tastebuds mad.
Turn off the burner, lift the duck with the tongs, then set two celery stalks or carrots underneath it in the pan. Rest the browned duck on them, breast side up.
Pop the whole shebang into the oven for at least 10 minutes for a small bird such as teal, more for a bigger bird.
Start checking the bird after 10 minutes (more for larger birds) by inserting a meat thermometer into the breast. When it hits 135 degrees, pull it out of the oven.
Set the bird on a cutting board and cover it with a tent made of aluminum foil. Let it rest for at least five minutes. (This will raise the temperature to about 145, which makes the food nazis much happier.)
For small birds like teal, serve whole. Larger birds, such as mallard and pintail, can be cut in half (you could use a cleaver or kitchen shears) and will serve two.
Serve with your favorite side dish or salad. Hint: You'll be grateful if you have bread or another starchy item to soak up the juices.
Try this recipe once and you'll see why we never breast out a duck at our house - there's no reason not to savor the whole bird.
Q: What's the best way to defrost a frozen duck?
A: Easy: With the duck still sealed in a plastic bag (or better yet, in a vacuum-sealed bag), put the bird in a container of COLD water. Yes, cold - tap-water cold. After 45-60 minutes, pour that out and refresh it with more cold tap water. It'll defrost completely in probably less than two hours. Don't use hot water or it'll only defrost around the edges.
Q: Why does the cold-water defrosting method work?
A: Don't ask me questions like that. I'm a writer, not a scientist.
Q: Why does my kitchen fill up with smoke when I do this?
A: Duck fat smokes easily. You could skip the browning part to spare yourself, but you'd lose that crispy brown skin. You can also turn the burner down a bit, but remember, the point is to brown quickly.
Q: Speaking of duck fat, where do you get it?
A: When we get nice plump premium ducks (NOT the ones that can taste a little "off"), we render down their butts, and any other big globs of fat we happen to get in the cleaning process. Clean the butt really well. Quarter it. Put it in a frying pan over very low heat. When there's nothing left but very crispy skin, turn off the burner and let it cool. Take out the skin pieces and strain the fat through cheesecloth into a jar. Save the jar in the fridge. Add to this throughout the season.
Q: What if I cut into the duck and it's just a bit too rare?
A: Two choices: Put it back in the oven, or back on the stovetop, for a little more cooking.
Email me if you have other questions I might want to add to this FAQ.
© Holly A. Heyser 2009